When first hearing that filmmaker Vito Dinatolo’s full-feature directorial debut, Face of Evil, would tackle a viral epidemic and a nationwide conspiracy with a small, independent budget, I was skeptical, to say the least. Intending to feature a national crisis, government corruption and a quick spreading zombie plague on an estimated budget of merely $200,000, it seemed the film would bite off more than it could chew. Skepticism aside, I was intrigued enough by the story and the appearance of up-and-coming actress, Jamie Bernadette (4/20 Massacre, Killing Joan), to convinced me to give Face of Evil a chance. Though it was nothing groundbreaking, it was far from a disappointment.
When Middle East war veteran Jay Williams (Scott Baxter: Immersion) returns home from duty on the 4th of July, he is greeted with a Welcome Home party arranged by his sister, Katy (Bernadette), and his friends. However, the neighborhood isn’t as he remembers. With robberies, home invasions and violence becoming the norm, it is clear that the world is slowly falling into chaos. Regardless of constant news reports of violence and the newly installed bars in the windows of Jay’s home, the group makes the best of their celebration by grilling out, smoking joints and drinking beer.
Soon after Jay’s ex-girlfriend crashes the party and the former couple decide to find some privacy, an epidemic similar the rage virus from 28 Days Later strikes turning people into zombies resembling the white-eyed Deadites from Evil Dead. These once human monsters exhibit abnormal speed and strength, and infect the partiers one by one.
Fleeing from the overrun house, Jay is forced to leave his sister whom he presumes is as good as dead. On the run, Jay finds himself at a gas station where he is attacked by a zombie and saved by his gun-slinging former military superior, Sarge (Chad Bishop: Fragile World, Brothers). Debriefing the veteran on the current threat which is part of a strategic government conspiracy to gain control over the national population by instilling fear, Sarge explains that there is still hope. The duo embarks on a mission to find Dr. Clark (Cristoforo Murrino), who may hold all the answers. However, things may not be all that they seem.
With influences from films such as Stay (2005) and Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Dinatolo executes a commendable indie full-length feature debut that reflects a not-so-distant future of current times. With the social and political climate erupting into online chaos seasoned with conspiracy theories, the radio and televised news broadcasts heard throughout Face of Evil are not too far fetch. Another element of substance is PTSD, which impacts our returning military veterans everyday.
The film’s highlight performance, as expected, is Bernadette. However, she is surprisingly not the only one to stand out. Also dominating the screen is Baxter in his portrayal of a military veteran struggling to fight through this current threat at hand while battling traumatic memories he is not yet ready to confront. Another surprise castmember is Bishop who infused a twist of Zombieland’s Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) into his character as Sarge.
While it has various production hiccups that mainstream studio-craving moviegoers may sneer at, Face of Evil surprisingly exceeded my low expectations. This is a thrilling horror in which fans of indie work will likely find value and shows that Dinatolo has filmmaking potential with plenty of room to grow. Although it may not be an absolute must-see, Face of Evil is worth checking out and is currently available on VOD.