‘History Of Evil’ Review: Essentially It’s ‘The Amityville Horror’ But The Ghost Is A White Supremacist


It feels reductive to associate the horror genre with just “scary stuff,” because it has been used by talented filmmakers to talk about various real-life issues and fears about the future in a visceral way. Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us delved into the heightened forms of racism coursing through the United States of America. Mariama Diallo’s Master did the same, but through the lens of education in elite universities. George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead and The Crazies showed what could happen if the military filled the void left by a functioning democratic government. Julius Avery’s Overlord and Paco Plaza’s Sister Death turned back the clocks to the ‘40s to imagine how real-world monsters can pave the way for something supernatural. And films like The Invitation, Ready or Not, Resolution, and The Empty Man have critiqued the very existence of cult-like groups. History of Evil seemingly covers all of these ideas while having a hint of The Amityville Horror in it.

Bo Mirhosseni’s History of Evil is set in the year 2045, when the United States of America doesn’t exactly exist anymore. It has become a neo-fascist state called the North American Federation, which is run by state-sanctioned militias that use religion and nationalism to terrorize people and hunt down those who are from minority communities. Those who are fighting these forces of tyranny from the shadows are known as the Resistance. One of the rebels, Alegre, intends to reunite with her family and then take them to the revolutionaries for safekeeping. But since the checkpoints and roads are swarming with armed goons, Alegre, Ron (Alegre’s husband), Daria (Alegre and Ron’s daughter), Trudy, and their dog, Benny, are forced to stay at a colonial-era house until they get further instructions. As they settle in, it becomes evident that it’s not just any other colonial-era house; it’s a colonial-era house that’s haunted by the spirit of its owner, Cain, who was a white supremacist. And with each passing day, Cain begins to take hold of Ron’s soul and starts turning him against his wife.

History of Evil has an interesting premise, and no one can deny that. I didn’t watch the trailer before watching the film, and I was kind of surprised to see this Leila-esque story on Shudder because it’s a streaming platform for out-and-out horror films and shows. And then I was even more surprised to see Bo Mirhosseni doing a haunted house movie, except the ghost that’s possessing the male lead is a racist individual. While the backdrop of fascism is explicit in its portrayal, thereby leaving no room for interpretation (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), Ron’s arc offers a ton of food for thought. Through Ron, the writer asks if someone from the majority community can truly support minorities when they are being hunted down by majoritarian fascists. Can someone from a country’s majority community truly unlearn the bigotry that’s embedded deep in their subconscious due to social conditioning and actually use their privilege to shield minorities from oppression? Can folks from the majority community reject the religious politics that’s being played in their name and be a beacon of humanity for those who are being discriminated against?

Now, while all these are prescient questions that reflect the fascist times we are already living in, History of Evil doesn’t do anything intriguing with that premise to make it truly memorable. Every time it needs to swing for the fences and rise above its subliminal messaging, Bo Mirhosseni shows restraint. Doing it once or twice is fine, but when this aversion towards explicit displays of terror and fear becomes repetitive, the viewing experience becomes tiring. And I understand that maybe this is Mirosseni and his team’s style, and I am merely projecting my expectations onto the film. However, Paul Corley’s music, Jon Peter’s cinematography, and Anjoum Agrama’s editing say otherwise. They keep building up to these tense altercations, and the payoffs are simply bland. And when something does happen, most of it occurs off-screen or unfolds so quickly that it doesn’t even register on an emotional level. Yes, movies can be abstract in their portrayal of horror, but if a movie is already presenting its ghost as a white supremacist and its physical villains as Bible-thumping terrorists, what’s the point of the subtlety during the “horror” moments? By the way, for a movie that mostly takes place at night and inside a house, it looks bad. The sound design is its only saving grace.

Coming to the performances in History of Evil, they are quite good. Unfortunately, the material they are all working with is pretty standard and doesn’t really challenge their skills. Paul Wesley has years of acting experience due to his extensive work on The Vampire Diaries. Technically speaking, his character, Ron, goes through a dramatic change. But every single scene of his feels derivative and unimaginative. This man is supposed to be possessed by the ghost of a white supremacist, and the most he gets to do is whine about his wife in front of his kid, bang on the door, and sing a bigoted song with a mild bit of enthusiasm. Wesley gets the job done, but it’s sad to see an actor of his caliber be limited by the direction and the writing. The same can be said about Jackie Cruz, who has done some amazing work in Orange is the New Black. In here, her presence is hardly noticeable, even though her character is supposed to be one of the most wanted people in this fascist reality. Rhonda Johnson Dents and Murphee Bloom are fine. Thomas Francis Murphy is mildly scary. Preston Flagg, Kyle Carles-Martin Porter, Ralph Rodriguez, and Ryan Baughman accurately portray the dumbness and arrogance of religious supremacists.

History of Evil’s issue is that it’s not realistic enough to be thought-provoking, and it’s not surreal enough to be horrifying. If you go through the news and read about what various kinds of religious fanatics, fascists, and bigots are doing to their own people in the name of nationalism and whatnot, it’ll be way more impactful than anything that Bo Mirhosseni’s film has to present. If you don’t want to be exposed to the horrors that are unfolding around us in real-time and you want to view them through a peephole, then maybe you can check this movie out. With all that said, I do want to see someone else take a visceral and nightmare-inducing jab at the concept of the ghost of a white supremacist creeping into the minds of its family members and making them do things that they never dreamt of doing. In fact, I want filmmakers from every country to do a version of this premise just so that I can see what kind of regressive customs made a comeback in the 21st century and how they kept humanity from progressing as a species.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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