Riffing on visual and narrative tropes from “Halloween,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Blair Witch Project” and dozens of other, better pics, writer-director James Merendino (“SLC Punk”) manages only sporadic scares in “Evil Remains,” a small-budget horror opus filmed in and around New Orleans. Originally known as “Trespassing” (and showcased under that title at the 2004 Munich Fantasy Film Festival), pic is fast-forwarding toward Jan. 11 homevid release after token N.O. theatrical run.
Prologue establishes the dark mythos connected with a decrepit Deep South mansion where slaves were tormented prior to the Civil War and, more recently, a troubled young man killed his parents before presumably committing suicide. Along with four dubious companions, a grad student (Daniel Gillies) visits the mansion in search of truths behind legends. This, natch, is a big mistake.
At first, the pic suggests the old dark house contains an evil spirit that brings out the worst fears in each member of the group. But psychological horror soon gives way to slasher mayhem as a masked killer amasses a steadily increasing body count.
To his credit, Merendino adds a few distinctive touches to the formulaic plot. For example, the two female leads (Estella Warren, Ashley Scott) are lesbian lovers, not boytoys for male co-stars. Better still, a few dialogue-driven scenes crackle with impressively modulated tension. Warren and Scott persuasively convey a mounting sense of dread. Overall, however, the pic can’t transcend its inherent limitations as a derivative genre piece that comes complete with a cliched final fake-out.
Kurtwood Smith of TV’s “That ’70s Show” cameos as a psychiatrist in scenes that bookend the main narrative. Moody lensing by Jordan Allen and Tom Calloway makes effective use of desaturated colors — so desaturated, in fact, that some people may wind up remembering the pic as being shot in black-and-white. Assuming, of course, they’ll bother to give it a second thought.