28th May2020

‘Coven of Evil’ VOD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: John Thacker, Laura Peterson, Samantha Moorhouse, Craig R Mellor, Tracy Gabbitas, Laura Ellen Wilson, Micky Satiar, Jacob Kain Prescott, Brian Woodward, Jayne Buchanan, Ian Archdeacon, Vicki Glover, Graham Parrington | Written and Directed by Matthew J. Lawrence

Whilst British horror has always been around, in particular independent horror, in recent years it seems – thanks to the likes of Uncork’d Entertainment, Wild Eye Releasing and ITN Distribution – that the US market has become more open and more willing to take a chance British horror; and that’s done wonders for the UK horror scene. Budgets may not have increased but certainly production values and more importantly ambition has. Which means that the term “British horror” is becoming less and less of a stigma and, coupled with the rise in demand from streaming services across the globe, we’re seeing more and more British genre fare make it way to the screen. Which can only be a good thing right?

Well yes and no.

On the one hand hidden gems are becoming less hidden but on the other, those films that gave the term “British horror” such a stigma in the past are also coming to the fore. The kinds of low-budget, clumsily-staged, all talk and no action films that made watching Brit-made fear flicks such a chore. Unfortunately, Coven of Evil definitely falls into the latter camp.

Made in 2018 but unreleased until this month, Coven of Evil follows a young journalist, Joe, who seeks fame by writing articles on witchcraft. After being invited to a ritual by the leader of a coven he’s just written about, he discovers that his own desires take on a darker nature as he is magnetically drawn towards Alice, an innocent young girl whose presence in the coven is somewhat of a mystery. Forbidden from seeing her, Joe begins to suspect that Alice is being held prisoner against her will. Yet in his attempt to uncover the truth and rescue Alice, Joe is drawn deeper into the world of modern-day witchcraft…

Now that sounds intriguing right? Intriguing enough for me to drop the £6 it cost to buy this film on iTunes (though to be fair the poster was a huge draw too). Sadly for me, and for the makers of Coven of Evil, that synopsis and poster are about the only really interesting things going for this film.

To be fair to writer/director Matthew J. Lawrence, there is an attempt to build some mystery: both about Alice and about what is real and what is not – the film blurring the line as to what Joe is or is not experiencing. Is he sleeping and having vivid sex dreams about one of the coven members? Or did he really shag one of the witches on the floor in front of the rest of the coven before pummelling her head in? It’s those questions, and [more] the fact I had to write this review, that I kept watching, watching way past where – had I been checking this out for fun – I would have probably switched the film off in boredom (or skipped to the end to see if we do get answers – we do, thankfully).

Why switch off early? Or skip ahead to the end? Well mainly because any attempt at creating terror in Coven of Evil is undermined by the cast who, across the board, give stilted performances – never really making their characters feel genuine. Which means where you should feel empathy for Joe and Alice you don’t, in fact it’s hard to really care what happens to either of them in the end. However their performances are not the worst. That “honour” lies with the coven’s High Priest Zander. A character who is supposed to be the epitome of power and/or evil but feels less like the leader of a coven and more like some loud-mouth wife-beating chav who’d be more at home propping up a bar in a Yorkshire pub!

Eventually Coven of Evil, an hour into it’s running time, reveals what’s ACTUALLY going on, and by then you’ll be probably past caring… but you shouldn’t be. It’s only at this point that the film actually kicks into gear, that the film will truly hold the audiences interest. This final third of the film is, whilst still marred by poor performances, a total dichotomy to what has come before. Maybe Coven of Evil should have been yet another short like the majority of Lawrence’s output, perhaps then the truth of this story, as unveiled in the last 30 minutes of the film, would have had even more of an impact?

Unfortunately for Lawrence though, he goes and spoils all the good will built up at the end of the film –  the less said about that AND the epilogue the better… Just when I was getting behind the film as well!

Coven of Evil is available on VOD now.

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