Chris Fisher's Meeting Evil, in theaters May 4th (already available on Video on Demand), is a gut-wrenching movie, mostly because it's so frustrating. It's one of those horror films wherein the killer is an obnoxiously altruistic type who spends way more time judging the hero and explaining how righteous he is than he does actually killing. In this version, the talking killer is played by Samuel L. Jackson, and his hapless drag-along is played by a nicely intense Luke Wilson. Wilson's character is not exactly an innocent man (he's mean, he lost his job, he's having an affair), but Jackson takes Wilson's iniquities and uses them as arguments as to why the two of them are similar. Yes, Jackson actually says the clichéd line “We're not that different, you and I.” I've seen these kinds of characters before, and every time, I want to stop the movie and argue with them myself. I want to put my two cents into the pseudo-philosophical discussion on morality.
Does that make these types of films more compelling? That you want to jump in and argue? That the film is clearly playing with the audience's (presumed) point of view? I would say that that can work, but in the case of Meeting Evil, it begins to get frustrating after a while. “How can I be evil?,” the killer asks, “when you've lied in your job and cheated on your spouse?” I would argue that casual murder, emotional torture, and a calculated escape from the police is much worse. Meeting Evil may be setting itself up as a moral playground, but it's really just a cheap slasher flick with some talented actors masking the banality with clever dialogue and overwhelming intensity.
So Meeting Evil isn't all bad. The performances are just fine, Jackson is intense as usual, and Luke Wilson proves to be a strong performer when it comes to haunted and hunted. The violence is fun, and the film is very well shot, possessed, as it is, with a kind of gut-wrenching velocity. There's even a great scene wherein Wilson's wife, played by Leslie Bibb, tells off a cheeky cop (Tracie Thomas) in the most efficient fashion. As a horror film, Meeting Evil is just fine. It's just not nearly as smart as it thinks it is.
Wilson plays a guy named John who has just lost his job in the real estate market on his birthday. He will definitely lose his home. He lies to his wife Joanie (Bibb) and his two young kids, and he kind of berates them. Just as John is contemplating suicide, a demonic stranger named Richie (Jackson) appears at his door asking for car assistance. John is brusque, but does help, but Richie uses his aid as an opportunity to take him on a journey down the moral rabbit hole that separates intention from action. John may be kind of a bastard, but Richie would argue that murder is the more pure reaction. I understand that, at the end of a hard day, a rude retail clerk can enrage you and make you want to punch them in the face, but I don't know anyone who would actually murder a clerk for rude service in a fit of Falling Down-like social vengeance. There are further twists in the characters (including Bibb), but I will not reveal anything else; this film is constructed of little twists.
Call it the Saw syndrome. Is exposing someone to violence a favor, if they, as a result of that exposure, become a stronger and more content person? I would say that's way too much of a crapshoot. Better not to submit them to violence at all. Better not to kill people. Meeting Evil is kinda fun to watch, but as a philosophical treatise, it's child's play.