Everly review

Back in 2007, Joe Lynch‘s directorial debut proved to be a very pleasant surprise.

But ahead of release, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End was maybe not looking so promising. It was a sequel to a film that wasn’t particularly good to begin with and certainly didn’t feel like it was begging for a follow up. Lynch had a low budget, a straight to video remit, and a plot involving a reality TV game show. Nothing about this scenario was overly encouraging.

Then the film was and released and, against those odds, Lynch had turned in an actual, honestly ‘good movie.’ He was clearly not just a competent director but a talented filmmaker who knew how to visually tell a story, using solid, classical filmmaking techniques with a hint of playfulness.

His follow-up, Knights of Badassdom, suffered the fate of far too many independent films, and the version now available is heavily compromised, existing only in a version that Lynch himself doesn’t find representative of the movie he was trying to make.

Thankfully, his latest picture, Everly, appears to have put Lynch back in the driving seat and entirely in charge of the wheel, and it is very much a complete and rounded experience as a result.

Everly opens with the title character, played with remarkable skill by Salma Hayek, naked and afraid. She has retreated into the bathroom of her apartment to escape a group of Yakuza members that have just sexually assaulted her. Everly, we learn, is the imprisoned prostitute of a particularly sadistic and all powerful yakuza boss named Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe), a particularly unpleasant character. Taiko decreed that Everly had stepped out of line, and so he sent round his men to make her regret it.

It’s a brutal opening but Lynch, working from a screenplay developed by him and screenwriter Yale Hannon, exercises restraint and the scene depends on the audience’s imagination and empathy rather than graphic sexual violence. It’s a wise move, and immediately establishes that this won’t be a simple, exploitative rape-revenge picture. There’s going to be serious consideration behind what we’re shown on screen, and why.

Everly makes a personal choice in this first scene that sets in motion the whole plot. Largely motivated by desire to save her estranged daughter, who Taiko has kept from her for a number of years, Everly walks out of the bathroom guns blazing.

Almost the entirety of the film takes place in this single apartment, as we see Everly fight off wave after wave of Yakuza killers, and even the other residents of the apartment building, other prostitutes of Taiko’s under instruction to take Everly out. One of these women makes a choice not to stand against Everly but with her, convinced by the fact that Everly has and already managed to fight off a number of Taiko’s men. After seeing the bodies strewn around Everly’s apartment she comments, “If you can do all this, then so can I”. It’s a particularly unusual and extreme kind of feminist empowerment, but that’s the direction in which Lynch and Hannon are clearly pointing.

It’s clear that Hayek understands how, despite the film’s rather simplistic plot essentials – it could be characterised as a one room action thriller with a repeating structure – the character of Everly herself can be the vehicle for a great deal of expression. Her evolution into an action hero with vengeance on her mind certainly gives Hayek some fun beats to play, but the character is more than just a one note heroine; Everly’s struggle is revealed to be more about her daughter than it about herself, and the scenes in which we see them interact are actually very touching, Hayek showing a very light touch and a great deal of warmth.

And she’s more than up to handling the more comic moments too. Despite the film’s occasionally gloomy subject matter there’s also a great deal of humour in the script, with a number of amusing scenarios and witty lines ensuring that some scenes play more like a fun action film than dark and challenging thriller.

The kind of one-liner approach that has sunk a lot of action pictures is present here but only in a minor and even organic way. One particularly smart piece of writing, for instance, focuses on Everly’s choice of footwear and her exasperation when she is required to remove her shoes on more than one occasion. The payoff to this is amusing but also represents an important change in her character.

Indeed, Everly‘s costuming in general is well thought out, with a number of changes serving both story and character purposes. It’s the sort of detail and subtle shading that is sorely lacking in many action films, but which makes a huge difference to the depth of experience on offer.

This sort of subtlety works well together with the more obvious, bald elements of Everly, but there are times when Lynch and co. go a little too far with the broad sense of humour and bravura action. A late scene involving a sadist (Togo Igawa), for instance, does offer some kind of fun but it does seem to derail the film a little, not adding enough to balance out ten minutes worth of distraction.

That sequence is also an obvious homage to Takashi Miike, and while it’s nice to see Lynch wearing his influences on his sleeve, there’s also a sense that the weight is dragging him down a little. One montage sequence seems to be heavily influenced by a particular approach that Edgar Wright has favoured, and as well-conceived and executed as it is in isolation, it might throw you out of the film for a moment.

Overall, Everly is an exceptionally well made film, with a level of technical excellence on display that easily makes it stand out from a very crowded market of action thrillers that are often easy to digest but quickly forgotten. Lynch and cinematographer Steve Gainer, often find fresh and unusual ways in which to frame the action in Everly, never to grandstand but to keep the film from feeling stale – it does almost entirely take place in one apartment, after all.

With this third feature, Joe Lynch has finally lived up to the promise of his first and made a damn fine action movie. And – quite deliberately on his part too, I’m sure – a somewhat unlikely Christmas movie.

Following its “Ultra VOD” release in January, Everly is playing in US cinemas now and will be in UK cinemas from the 10th of April.