There’s something about a ghost hunter that calls for a cinematic tradition of oddballs. Whether it’s the offbeat, irreverent scientists of Ghostbusters, the goofy Ghostfacers of Supernatural, or the delightful otherworldliness of Zelda Rubenstein in Poltergeist, a character who communes with the dead usually comes with a flourish of oddity. Another Evil, the paranormal horror comedy from Silicon Valley writer Carson D. Mell, takes that trope to the next level with the story of a family man besieged by otherworldly spirits who hires the world’s most awkward paranormal investigator.
Togetherness star Steve Zissis stars as Dan, a low-key, fairly big-name painter who spends a lot of time getting work done in his family cabin where he leaves the city behind with his wife Mary (Jennifer Irwin) and son Jazz (Dax Flame). On a quiet night spent drinking wine and playing charades, the family discovers their cabin is plagued with ghosts and seek out some professional help. Their first medium — a hot dog-chugging, sweatpants adorned goober (Dan Bakkedahl) — is of the opinion that the ghosts are not only well-intentioned but an aurora borealis-esque natural phenomenon that should be cherished. Dan is unconvinced. When he shares his story with a colleague, who has some knowledge in the paranormal, he’s referred to a supposed badass ghost hunter, Os, played by comedian Mark Proksch.
Proksch first earned attention for his cringe-inducing alter ego K-Strass, a “yo-yo expert” who made sport of unnerving local newscasters, and he brings that awkward expertise to Os, a pathetic man in the midst of a divorce who’s desperate to find meaning in his life. Os is of the opinion that these ghosts aren’t harmless at all, but demons that call for an immediate expulsion. Dan and Os set up shop in the cabin, alone and stocked with alcohol, and what begins as male bonding soon transforms into something more dangerous and ambiguous.
When Another Evil gets it right, boy does it hit the mark. The opening scene is finely-tuned tension that slow-builds to horror. The follow-up paranormal investigation hits the comedy equally as hard. But the rest of the film struggles to find the middle ground between the two genres, settling at a strange place in the middle that is both intriguing and wearisome but where nothing is exactly funny or scary.
As a character, Os is undeniably compelling. Zissis plays a fantastic straight man, keeping the film rooted in a sense of reality no matter how weird Proksch gets with it, and Mell has crafted a complex character portrait that keeps the truth of the matter tantalizing and ambiguous for much of the film. When Os delivers a monologue revealing the truth behind his fascination with the spiritual realm, it’s a bracing, candid revelation that leaves you wincing away from the screen. Proksch does remarkable work, maintaining a throughline of sympathy in even the character’s darkest and most unappealing moments, but it’s a razor-fine tonal tightrope and the film occasionally loses footing. Another Evil never becomes unlikeable, but it lives on the line.
The film teeters that way — not quite comedy, not quite horror, not quite horror comedy — until the final act, when Another Evil makes a definite push into straightforward thriller territory. It doesn’t quite land, and after waiting for all the wine-chugging seances to add up to something, the film seems to end somewhat abruptly. However, Another Evil absolutely offers an original, odd spin on the haunted house yarn, which is always refreshing and welcome in such an overstuffed genre. You never feel like you know what’s going to happen in this one. And Mell takes his characters deadly serious, even if they are a couple of goofballs, giving the film a resonant impact even in the midst of the tonal mishmash.