Scantily clad, hot female lead slaying off waves of bad dudes without a story or purpose.
One would think a film based on a very simple premise—scantily clad, hot female lead slaying off waves of bad dudes—would know what kind of film it wants to be: slasher flick, comedy, or drama.
But director Joe Lynch’s (Knights of Badassdom, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) latest film, Everly, feels confused and meandering. Imagine being dropped into the intro sequence of a bloody video game, fighting off hordes of anonymous enemies. Cool. But then imagine it repeating ad nauseam, without the storyline ever beginning. In a video game it works because it’s interactive, and the exposition might get in the way. This is a movie, however, and at a certain point I wondered: where’s the story?
Alright: Writer Yale Hannon does give us some plot, albeit in the broadest strokes. In Diehard fashion, Everly takes place in a single environment: the upstairs apartment of a mob boss named Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe), where Everly (Salma Hayek), presumably a sex slave (it’s never stated outright, but the big guy sending prostitutes to attack her seems to suggest she’s one of them), has decided she’s taking revenge on her boss and breaking free. To add some tension to the proceedings, Everly’s mother (Laura Cepada) and toddler daughter (Aisha Ayamah), both of whom she hasn’t seen in five years, heed some ill advice to show up at the apartment just as things are getting colorful. Taiko’s ordered a hit on the petite but vicious Everly, who is inexplicably one badass mofo with whatever weapon she lays her hands on. In Matrix-style waves (minus the cool special effects) she fells a series of ditzy prostitutes (two end up shooting each other after bickering over who deserves the kill more) and a mob of Taiko’s well-dressed Asian underlings. Obviously intending to model itself after slicker Japanese girl-with-gun films like Kill Bill, Everly just doesn’t have the style, the wit, or hell, even the gore of its muses.
It seems obvious after all, in a film that kills a couple dozen people by the time we get a solid piece of dialogue, that we know what we’re getting ourselves into. If it’s your cup of tea, there can be something cathartic, even fun, about seeing new and creative ways to slice and dice inferior foes. If that’s not your type of movie, this was never going to work out for you anyway. But I’m going to argue that even though there’s essentially no plot and no more backstory than what I defined above, the violence angle actually isn’t taken far enough if this is what the filmmakers were going for. That old cult-film cliché “it’s so bad it’s good” has no room to grow here—she stabs and she fights by hand, but it’s more Buffy the Vampire Slayer than anything, except without the engaging supernatural plot. The one time it looks like Everly might really have the lower hand—she finds herself locked in a cage with a mad scientist who wants to drop skin-rotting acid onto her—he finally drops it on her…leg. Maybe it was a fun day for the makeup artist, but it’s hard to get excited about that. Am I sadistic for suggesting a violent film needs to be more violent? Sure, but that’s the film’s premise.
The sick slasher-flick element occasionally lands, though. The film’s aptitude for embracing irony is clumsy and painful. I’d argue the aforementioned scene between the two prostitutes arguing over who gets to kill Everly as she sits safely in a corner waiting for them to blow each other’s brains out is the very moment the film implodes. That’s kind of unfortunate because it’s maybe 15 minutes into the movie. The thing about dark humor is it’s funny when it catches the viewer completely off guard—it has to hit a certain “holy shit that is so true and I’m a horrible person for thinking so” note. Or it has to be truly ironic. When filmmakers rely on tropes and lazy writing, the audience loses the unexpected element. We can’t laugh along with Everly because it wants to be other movies so badly it can’t create its own ideas.
In fact, even though both Hayek and Cepada give perfectly engaging performances, it’s hard to buy into the dramatic scenes at all. After the silly stripper girls off each other and a neighbor knocks from above (they’re making too much noise), they try to have a heart-to-heart out of the little girl’s earshot about why Everly abandoned her the way she did. It’s hard to take the scene seriously because we’ve just watched 30 minutes of offbeat dark comedy. The dramatic angle’s problems are compounded when a later scene finds a naked man with a hatchet in the hallway going after the four-year-old girl. Even twisted people don’t find placing kids in the middle of absurdist violence amusing. With Everly never explaining her situation, there’s no reason for the viewer to get invested in anything more than her…guns.
Is that it, really? Is this movie just about putting an attractive actress—who might want to rebrand herself as still capable of young, edgy roles—in scantily-constructed outfits and provocative (graphically, not conceptually) situations? The genre can do better than that. This type of guilty pleasure can deliver shock, wit, seduction, and intrigue all in one package when done well. But for that, one would have to watch one of the many films Everly wants to be.