Meeting Evil (2012)

Posted on August 20, 2014

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My wife and I ran into some financial trouble over the last month or so. We took a promise at face value, and made some bill-paying decisions based on it. The business that made the promise is taking longer than expected to deliver, and as a result we couldn’t pay our cable/internet bill last month.

I could have stolen some time from work to write, but we were in crunch time for launching an updated mobile version of our website. I focused on work.

On top of which, I’m training for the Seattle Marathon at the end of November, and that is taking a lot of my time that I used to spend writing.

So that’s why this post is late, and I apologize.

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Synopsis

John Felton (Luke Wilson) comes home to his family in a mostly abandoned, and incomplete, housing development. It’s quickly apparent that he’s having a terrible day when he has to confess to his wife that he did not sell any houses. They have no money to pay the bills.

Joanie Felton (Leslie Bibb) takes their son and their daughter to the park. John answers a knock at the door. Richie (Samuel L. Jackson) needs help. His car stalled out, and he needs a push to get it started again. John helps him, and gets hurt doing so. Richie insists on driving John to the hospital to get checked out.

And John’s descent into Hell begins.

Short Version

This is a movie about the toll that keeping up appearances takes on us, and what events are sufficient to goad us into taking action.
 

Long Version

Now, if you work in real estate, God bless you. You’ve got a tough job in a tough marketplace. On your best day, you help people build lives, and that’s wonderful.

I think this movie made John a real estate salesperson, however, because Americans distrust salespeople. Doesn’t matter whether you sell houses, used cars, or washing machines, there’s a feeling that customers and salespeople don’t meet as equals. Salespeople have information that the customer does not. The customer is aware of that lack of parity, and it generates distrust and, sometimes, antipathy.

Speaking from personal experience, I once walked out of a store because a salesperson immediately started pressuring me to buy what he had, and he did so by insulting my research. I get that you can only sell what you have, but insulting my efforts is not the way to persuade me.

Getting back to the movie, though, I think we’re not supposed to like or trust John. Our sympathy is with Joanie Felton (Leslie Bibb), who is trying not to fight in front of the kids. John seems like a guy who’s taking what life dumps on him and turning to the bottle rather than fighting back.

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It’s only the unmitigated, unrestrained, horror of Richie that makes John sympathetic at all. Jackson makes Richie a barracuda of a man. He has his own rules. Break one, and he has no hesitation or restraint about punishing the trespasser. He commits mass murder, kidnapping, and who knows what else.

Meanwhile, we are in suspense because stories are supposed to make sense. Actions beget consequences, so we’re wondering what John did to get Richie’s attention. What rule did John break?

Plus, we’re wondering how much abuse John can take. Like many of us, John is unaccustomed to violence. He doesn’t know what to do, or when to do it. He clearly needs to do something to save himself, and his ex-lover Tammy (Peyton List) from Richie. We don’t know what he will do, when he will do it, or whether he will succeed.

We also do not know why Richie keeps egging him on to do anything. Richie seems to want John to be like Richie. He certainly wants John to commit to a course of action, whatever course that is. He seems to have a point, but we do not know what it is.

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I have very low tolerance for movies or shows that do not give me a protagonist for whom I can root. For me, it’s important to have an understood (if not liked) character, or a situation that I clearly understand and want to resolve a certain way. In other words, a story can take its time revealing character to me if the characters are all trying to do something that I can understand.

For example, The Poseidon Adventure could start with the ship rolling over for all I care. I understand, at a visceral level, the need to escape and to survive. The characters will reveal themselves to me as they make choices and take action to satisfy those needs.

I was expecting Meeting Evil to be so bad that I returned the disc without completely watching it. Instead, it made me want to read Thomas Berger’s novel. Writer/director Chris Fisher does a good job ratcheting up the suspense throughout.

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High Point

I loved the scene where Joanie covered her son’s ears before cursing out Detective Latisha Rogers (Tracie Thoms), but lets her daugher listen. The detective asks her why. Joanie says it’s because she wants her son to treat women respectfully, and because she wants her daughter to know how to stand up for herself and be strong. Great scene, and Leslie Bibb handles the material well.

Low Point

Okay, let’s address an important point: The casting of this movie can be seen as incredibly racist. Why does the evil character have to be an African-American? I am sure they cast Samuel L. Jackson because he is a terrific actor and brings a real menace to the role. Casting Tracie Thoms as a police officer should mean that not all the black people in the movie are villains, but her character is kind of a jerk. So not all the bad people in the movie are black, but all the black people in the movie are bad. Your mileage may vary, but I think it was a racist mistake.

From a story standpoint, I hated the final confrontation between Richie and John. It happens at the right time and for the right reasons, but it’s resolved by deus ex machina. John doesn’t get to finish what he starts. Now, there’s a reason for that. I haven’t spoiled the whole movie, trust me. It just felt like John didn’t complete his character arc.

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Summary

This is not a pleasant or easy movie to watch. It’s heavy on drinking, smoking, and swearing. It is also, however, light on gore. Physical violence mostly happens off-camera.

I had rock-bottom expectations for this movie, and was pleasantly surprised by its suspenseful nature. Worth a rental.

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Posted in: Movies