This is one of those rare films that actually gets better on the second viewing. Olatunde Osunsan’s Evidence is among the many entries into the found footage horror genre (2013).
Seriously, there are so many.
On the surface, it appears to be a relatively straightforward entry into the subgenre. In the beginning, it appears to subscribe to the basic premise of the found-footage philosophy. Footage has been shot by the characters in real time, while the events of the film happen to them. Found footage horror relies on the assumption that the film being shown is a collection of images depicting an event, or series of events, as they happened. This deviates from other movies, since the footage depicted is meant to have been shot in the diegetic world.
What this means is, the audience accepts that the characters did indeed shoot the footage. More importantly, the audience accepts that the characters did not edit the footage in any way.
The style is purposefully “raw” and amateurish, with extensive use of a handheld camera and natural sound. Evidence blends the found footage aesthetic with the more traditional horror style, as it includes both footage shot by one group of characters, and the attempt by another to interpret said footage.
The film chronicles two interconnected stories: a series of murders committed in the Nevada desert, and the attempts of two detectives to piece together what happened from the “evidence” that remains. The story cuts between the two timelines, using footage shot by the various characters on video cameras and cell phones. However, this is not as straightforward as expected. For one thing, parts of the footage are damaged, and the lone survivor’s recollection of the events are colored by Post Traumatic Stress; what she remembers is not always what the camera portrays. The detectives must sift through the recorded images and surviving evidence in order to piece together what happened, and determine both the timeline of events and the identity of the perpetrator – which remains unclear for the majority of the film.
The events are your standard slasher fare. We have the masked killer.
The group of victims
The creepy abandoned setting
And the final girl.
Evidence is far from the first found footage horror film to deal with a similar plot, but it has some key details that depart from the tropes usually deployed in this particular subgenre. Found footage horror relies on a single premise: that while the characters might lie and deceive each other, the camera apparatus will remain impartial throughout everything. The camera does not have an agenda, and thus the events that the camera records can be taken as absolute truth. Because there is no agenda, there can be no deception. This is the basic principle that found footage horror is based upon. The camera records the events in these films, where the viewer is left to come to their own conclusions. In general, an unseen third party is assumed to have edited the various shots together into a cohesive whole before the audience gets ahold of the film. It is also assumed that this unknown third party has not tampered with the footage in any way. In other words, the footage has not been “edited” in a way that would shift the perspective of the depicted events. The shakiness of the camera footage adds an element of rawness, which in this genre is assumed to be another level of reality instead of just an aesthetic choice.
The characters in Evidence begin operating on this perspective, turning to the camera footage when the testimony of the survivor becomes fragmented or confusing. After all, a camera is incapable of deception. Or is it?
It becomes clear over the course of the film that certain events in Evidence that are originally taken to be truth – after all, they were captured on film! – are not as they appear. The invisible third party that has stitched the various bits of film together is not as neutral as first assumed. Someone has orchestrated the events that have been recorded and has manipulated things so that the images develop in a specific way. The unnamed editor who puts these films together is put on full display and interrogated in Evidence. In this film, the camera is explicitly shown to be a tool of the person holding the apparatus. While the machine itself might be neutral, the operator explicitly is not. Evidence is one of the first found footage horror films to interrogate the expectations of the genre, and question the validity of the assumption that what is shown on film must be the truth. In Evidence, the truth is hidden behind layers of technology and human lies. The film already assumes that people lie – however, it later comes to the conclusion that technology can be pushed into that role as well.
In other words, the camera is not the sole bearer of truth in the cinematic world. Everything in the film has been constructed and displayed in a specific way, for a specific purpose. Evidence demands that the audience look at their assumption about cinematic truth, and consider the human element in both the editing and reception of film. Though Evidence was not perfectly executed and has several structural flaws within the plot, its ideas about spectatorship, the camera apparatus, and cinematic truth should be considered when looking both at the tropes of genre film, and the expectations of cinema itself. The film’s interrogation of what, exactly constitutes “truth” in terms of the cinematic is fascinating.
A lot of the films seeming dialog and structural problems actually make sense upon a second viewing – if something looks like it might be staged, it was probably intended to look that way.
This film is one of my favorites. 10/10 would watch again.