Evilution (2007) **
If the Asylum had made this movie, they would have called it 82 Weeks Later. Evilution isn’t too far from the Asylum’s standard operating procedure, either, so it doesn’t take much imagination to make the connection. Situated just a bit north of micro-budget territory and released directly to DVD, it bears just enough resemblance to a successful, theatrically released film from the same year to make you wish you were watching that other movie instead, while maintaining the bare minimum of originality to stave off actionable accusations of plagiarism, and comporting itself with sufficient technical acumen to rule out being appreciated for its shortcomings.
Something has gone badly awry at a US Army laboratory facility codenamed “Sand Trap,” hidden deep within the Iraqi desert. (Because obviously an inaccessible plot of land in the middle of a war zone is the best imaginable place to put a thing like that…) It’ll be a good, long while before these details emerge, but Sand Trap was set up to investigate what appears to be an intelligent microorganism of extraterrestrial origin. Obviously communicating with a microbe is kind of a tall order, no matter how smart it might be, but this particular species has evolved a special talent to cut through some of the hassle. When another lifeform is infected with the alien germs, they take over its higher mental functions in much the same way as the microscopic invaders in Enemy from Space. They can even restore a dead body to functionality provided it’s very fresh. However, if the host organism’s will is too strong— say as strong as that of the typical human— the aliens’ effective control will last only a short while before the battle for mastery over the cerebral cortex produces symptoms basically identical to those of the typical 21st-century B-movie zombie plague. The Sand Trap scientists have no luck at all keeping a lid on the situation when their experimental subjects go all 28 Days Later… on them (although they do figure out that a mixture of ammonia and chlorine is as toxic to the aliens as it is to practically everything of earthly origin), and the high command ultimately resorts to quarantine by bunker-busting incendiary bomb.
An earlier generation of nefarious Army higher-ups would have used a nuke instead, and the whole rest of the movie would never have happened had this bunch shown that kind of gumption. A single man escapes Sand Trap’s destruction alive, and although he isn’t infected himself, Captain Darren Hall (Basement Jack’s Eric Peter-Kaiser) is arguably even worse news than a zombie. Captain Hall was the number-two scientist at Sand Trap, and he remains committed to the goal of establishing communications with the microbes from space. That wouldn’t be a problem if all the alien germs had been destroyed in the bombing like they were supposed to, but Hall managed to smuggle a single vial of them with him when he fled the scene. He somehow found his way back to the United States, too, and he’s now skulking about the country under an assumed identity (borrowed conveniently, if none too cleverly, from his dead commanding officer), looking for a place where he can get back to work unobserved. Hall thinks he’s found just that in the Hotel Necropolitan, a once-grand haunt of the very rich that is now the biggest ghetto flophouse in whichever the hell city this is supposed to be. One assumes that wasn’t the hotel’s original name, but rather an embellishment by the current owner (Nathan Bexton, from Psycho Beach Party and Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return), who might as well have stepped alive and breathing out of the pages of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound.” Hall takes a suite, if you can call it that, in the basement, which was partitioned off from what used to be the massive room housing the indoor swimming pool, and which still constantly reeks of chlorine (*foomp!* Foreshadowing flare!) as a consequence.
For an officer in the United States Armed Forces, Hall is a remarkably complete pussy, and he quickly marks himself out as a natural-born victim for Random (Noel Gugliemi, from Road Kill and Hood of Horror), Asia Mark (James Duval, of Penance and The Clown at Midnight), and Killah-B (DoUlike2watch.com’s Guillermo Diaz), the three drug dealers who also live in the Necropolitan’s basement. He’s just lucky he simultaneously befriends Madeline Gilbert (Sandra Ramirez, of .com for Murder and Immortally Yours), whom the gangsters respect and maybe even fear a little for no very obvious reason. Knowing that Hall is okay by Maddie limits the amount of shit that Random and his boys feel like they can get away with feeding him.
Meanwhile, the Army high command has not been so dense as not to notice a dead officer’s bank accounts and so forth coming back to life. It takes a while to figure out exactly who has been using the old Sand Trap boss’s identity, but nobody needs to be told twice what it means when Army intelligence fingers Hall as the culprit. Colonel Serna (Jonathan Breck, from Spiders, who was inside the monster costume in Jeepers Creepers) calls in a very experienced special forces man by the name of Sergeant First Class Gabriel Collins (Tim Colceri, of Razortooth and Leprechaun 4: In Space) to handle the tracking and elimination of Captain Hall, and soon the fugitive scientist has a whole new set of things to worry about. Mind you, he’s been doing a fine job of manufacturing his own worries as it is, for not only has one of the Necropolitan’s resident junkies (sometime Cult bassist Billy Morrison) spied his lab equipment and mistaken the space germ for some kind of exotic intoxicant, but Hall makes the catastrophic misjudgement of injecting Random with the alien microbe in the hope of restoring him when he gets shot to death in a drug deal gone bad. The resurrected Random starts going bad himself right around the time that Sergeant Collins launches his assassination strike, which is also about when the junkie pinches Hall’s vial of extraterrestrial zombie juice to shoot up. The Hotel Necropolitan is about to live up to its name in a big way.
Actually, there is one thing that Evilution does to make up a bit for its pedestrian direction, its adequate-at-best cast, and the flimsy tissue of mismatched clichés that comprises the bulk of its script. In the person of Captain Hall, Evilution resurrects the once-ubiquitous misguided scientist who nearly (or in this case, actually) gets everybody killed with his insistence upon trying to talk to and learn from the monster, but with a fascinating difference. It not only makes him the focus of the film, but treats him as the hero throughout. And vitally, it does so not in an uncritical, oblivious way akin to the handling of the lethally bungling scientists in movies like Man’s Best Friend and The Deep Blue Sea, but rather with a clear awareness of the potentially apocalyptic threat that Hall’s curiosity poses. Evilution gets us on Hall’s side at once by making him an affable dweeb, and by establishing early on that his former superiors are out to murder him. For approximately half the movie’s length, meanwhile, everything we hear about his work comes from the mouths of people whom we have every reason in the world to distrust. However, as the story progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that this guy really is as dangerous as Colonel Serna says he is. It also becomes clear that Hall himself is complacently unaware of the havoc he’s wreaking, and the main third-act drama (apart from all the zombie-fighting, I mean) revolves around him finally waking up to the facts of the situation. The flipside of that development is that Sergeant Collins, who is consistently portrayed as a villain until the revelation that zombies have overrun the entire hotel, is suddenly cast in an altogether more forgiving light. He may still be a United States soldier out to assassinate a citizen of his own country, but with every “Oh… whoops!” moment that Hall experiences, the sergeant’s mission looks incrementally better justified. I have a soft spot for movies that overturn their own assumptions like that, and I wish Evilution had more to offer alongside its big reverse.