Dennis (Frederick Koehler) recalls when his dreams became too much to bear and nightmares took over not merely his sleep, but his waking hours as well. It seemed to stem from one dream he had as a little boy where his mother had taken him to a fairground out in the desert which delighted him since it was so remote that there was no other person around, aside from the carnival workers, but what he really wanted to try was the ghost train. He persuaded his mother to join him in a carriage, in spite of the warning the operator (Michael Berryman) gave him that it might not be to his taste, and sure enough the journey along the tracks in the dark offered no fun at all - no scares whatsoever. Complaining to his mother once outside, she asked him why he thought it was over...
When The Evil Within appeared in 2017, it carried a lot of baggage since its director had died bankrupt a couple of years before of the effects of a meth addiction. That was enough to get it noticed, but it grew more intriguing as he was Andrew Getty, one of the heirs to the fortune established by oil magnate John Paul Getty, one of the wealthiest men in the world when he was alive. Grandson Andrew was not so much interested in continuing the family business as he was spending its money, and he felt he could do that best by channelling what he inherited into the movies: he wished to be a director of them, and penned a horror screenplay which went into production some fifteen years before the final effort was released.
It should be pointed out Getty never had a chance to complete his would-be masterwork, and it was instead wrangled into shape by its producer, some nine years after the stop-start shoot had ended and two years after the obsessively tinkering director had passed away. That there was a macabre enough aspect to this with the creator dying pretty horribly in the process of attempting to actually get this into cinemas in a result he approved of was one thing, that the experience of watching it offered an insight into an extremely troubled mind was another. For a movie that was essentially a rich kid's vanity project, there was a lot to unnerve here, not purely because of the plot or special effects, but that Getty had believed he was concocting something that would have been accepted as a perfectly reasonable use of funds.
Koehler certainly served up a dedicated performance, as Dennis we come to realise has physical and mental disabilities. This is not quite as bad a situation as it might have been because he lives with his older brother John (Sean Patrick Flanery) who looks after him and has enough money to see that Dennis's needs are met, but he is growing impatient with the young man as he wishes to marry his girlfriend Lydia (Dina Meyer) and his sibling is an impediment to that. Plus Dennis has been acting strangely recently - John does not know why, but as we are seeing it from his point of view we are aware that the afflicted person is being tormented by nightmares that have broken through to reality, embodied by exploitation flick stalwart Berryman at first, but then his apparently healthy reflection in an antique mirror forced on him by John later.
You watch this and can only ponder, did Getty see himself in Dennis in the manner Dennis sees himself in that mirror? Was the antihero of his movie how he saw himself in real life? Because if he did, this was one deeply tormented soul who crafted this film (or tried to). When the protagonist was instructed to start killing cats and dogs with a view to taxidermy by his alter ego, you could sort of see where this was going and that in horror movie tradition he was about to descend to murder, yet the way he did so blurred the lines between what we thought was genuine and what was the nightmare. Even at the end, there are elements unexplained, perhaps a consequence of the film not entirely being completed, but also perhaps because they made for a more off kilter view: we don't know why, for example, when Dennis's psychosis has him utterly in its grip, that John and Lydia start seeing everyone they know replaced by strangers in the small town where they live. If you wanted something downright weird that came across as a product of a disturbed mind with too much money and too much time on his hands, this fit the bill. It wasn't gory, but it was mindbending in its oddity. Music by Mario Grigorov.