Everly Dir. Joe Lynch

[Radius TWC; 2015]

Styles: action thriller
Others: The Raid, Assault On Precinct 13, Rio Bravo

I’m a sucker for self-contained movies that use one location, especially action films that use this claustrophobic setting to ratchet up the tension as antagonists close in. Joe Lynch’s Everly is clearly inspired by The Raid (which was clearly inspired by Assault On Precinct 13, which was clearly inspired by Rio Bravo), in that it has ultraviolent encounters all within one small setting (a studio apartment and its adjacent hallway), and in many ways captures the same narrative escalation of threats. Add into this that the lead actress turns in a badass performance and, like all great action films (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), it takes place at Christmas, and it seems that Lynch and screenwriter Yale Hannon have checked off a lot of the boxes of “things Neurotic Monkey likes in action films.” But the problem is that while there’s a lot of inventiveness going on, the film never feels as propulsive or as tense as it should. Make no mistake, the audience knows that lead character Everly (Salma Hayek) will make it to the final reel; but Lynch never makes the jeopardy she faces feel as visceral as, say, John McClane getting injured with every encounter and hobbling his way to the finish line in Die Hard. It’s the lack of these little details that stop Everly from being a great action film and instead strands it in limbo between an exploitation movie that’s not sleazy enough and a film with loftier goals.

The story begins in media res and there’s never any flashbacks or anything taking place outside of the Everly’s spacious apartment. Everything is filled in as the film progresses, not that it’s that hard a plot to discern: Everly is kept as something of a sex slave for a yakuza boss. She wants to escape. That angers the boss. So he sends wave after wave of henchmen (and fellow sex slaves) to dispose of her. Everly deals with each wave as she tries to reunite with her mother and a daughter she’s not seen for four years. It’s a lean bit of narration that never bogs down the film or gets too convoluted and allows the story to progress naturally, almost like a video game. Everly cleared the yakuza gangrape level, and now she’s got to fight the sai-wielding prostitute boss before going to the next level.

Lynch (Wrong Turn 2, Knights Of Badassdom) shoots all of the action in exhilarating ways, returning to his horror roots for some truly ghastly shots of the outcomes of the violence. It makes the impact of the acts much more visceral and adds to the tension. Unfortunately, where Lynch falls short is in making the setting feel as cramped as it should. His long pans around the apartment, coupled with copious hiding spots Everly utilizes throughout the assaults, gives the illusion of a lot of space and thus cuts down on the possibility of tension wrought from a more claustrophobic shooting set-up. Compare this to Reservoir Dogs’ warehouse, which is a larger space but was shot with characters constantly crowding the frame or using the same shots to increase the sense of a tightly bottled situation set to explode at any moment. If Lynch had done more to accentuate the cramped quarters, then the action would’ve felt more immediate and thus more engaging.

Another thing to discuss here is gender. Women in this film are prostitutes, mothers, or both (with the exception of Everly’s daughter, who the main bad guy threatens to turn into a prostitute). It could be viewed as some sort of cockeyed attempt at feminism to have this woman stand up to an onslaught of men and reassert herself despite all the odds, but it instead feels like a teenager’s fantasy of seeing a beautiful woman mow down a slew of villains in increasingly brutal fashion. Ironically, though, the film does pass the Bechdel Test. So there’s that.

Everly is a fun action film that isn’t aiming to be deep or transcendent of its genre. There’s no inversion of tropes but instead a few winking references to the films and filmmakers that inspired it (Carpenter, Tarantino, Edgar Wright, etc.). It’s a film that you would catch during channel flipping, be surprised at the brutality on screen, and end up watching in its entirety without ever feeling lost in the narrative. It’s all killer, no filler, as the saying goes. It’s just a shame that more couldn’t be done to distinguish it from its predecessors. The violence is impressive and beautifully shot, but there’s nothing truly innovative here. It’s a fine entry in the single location action sub-genre, it just feels like it could’ve been more of a standout.

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