Based on a book called “The Communist Who Ate Children,” “Evilenko” is an ambitious and fairly intriguing attempt to revisit shifting Soviet ideology via the titillating mechanism of the manhunt for Andrei Evilenko, the notorious pedophile and cannibal who murdered 55 victims. Criss-crossing the territory of Hannibal Lecter and “Gorky Park” with political metaphor, first feature by writer-journalist David Grieco struggles unconvincingly for a sociological explanation of the protag’s mental illness, supposedly rooted in an identity crisis caused by perestroika. Malcolm McDowell’s bug-eyed perf will give some overseas sales profile to the pic which opened slowly on limited release in mid-April.
Film opens in Kiev, 1984, a bad time for fanatical communists like Evilenko (McDowell) and his wife. For them, Gorbachev is an arch-enemy of the people, but they’re clearly in the minority. Evilenko loses his teaching job in an elementary school when — in a caricature of pedophilic evil — he brutally tries to rape an 11-year-old pupil.
Evilenko is shown to be adept at hypnosis, able to bend his victims to his will before raping them, cutting them to pieces and devouring their body parts. (Grieco wisely places the child murders off-screen.) No sooner does Evilenko embark on his murderous secret career than he’s recruited as an agent for the KGB.
Officially a “train inspector,” Evilenko now has the run of the country. His antagonist appears in the form of a handsome state prosecutor, Vadim Alesiev (Marton Csokas), a family man whose profession has made him rougher and tougher than any L.A. cop. He’s smart enough to co-opt a distinguished-looking psychoanalyst (Ronald Pickup) into helping him track down the serial killer.
The humanistic overtones introduced here — Evilenko as a victim of changing times, a schizophrenic who should be treated as a case study rather than hangman’s fodder — do little to counteract the horror of the mounting body count, and won’t win over many viewers.
McDowell (chillingly dubbed into Italian by gravel-voiced Giancarlo Giannini), creates a larger-than-life character who bears a distant resemblance to his Alex in “Clockwork Orange.” As Vadim, who reps society and the Good (though is also, ironically, a communist and barely holds his own violent tendencies in check), New Zealand thesp Csokas holds his own against McDowell in a commanding perf. Pickup shines mischievously as the gay Jewish psychoanalyst, notably in a strong face-off with Evilenko as the latter is about to do in a tyke.
Above-average tech credits are serviceable. The authenticity of the Ukrainian locations and extras partly makes up for the convention of all characters speaking Italian.