This review was originally published during our coverage of Fantastic Fest 2014.
Despite filmmaker Joe Lynch’s intentions, his latest effort, Everly, is destined to be paired with Die Hard for a festive back-to-back TNT double bill, drawing comparisons that may or may not exist. The bigger problem here is America’s response to a female-centric action movie, so intrigued by a concept that’s criminally underused and will probably be offensively exploited by Expendabelles. But that’s why we have Joe Lynch.
He’s pushing boundaries without even knowing it, ushering in a genre movement where ass-kicking leading ladies won’t be met with questions like “Why did you choose to make your protagonist female?” I don’t know, why don’t people ask directors “Why did you choose to make your protagonist male?” whenever Jason Statham movies come out? Lynch created Everly because an idea developed into a tragic story supported by big guns, evil henchmen, and a nasty team of Yakuza gangsters. Oh, and yes, the lead character is a damn chick.
We meet a prostitute named Everly (Salma Hayek) after she’s been brutally gang-raped, finding out the Yakuza aren’t too happy with her “treacherous” ways. After clearing the room in brutal fashion, her boss Taiko makes a promise that she won’t be leaving her apartment alive, issuing a 50K bounty on her head that every other neighboring “professional” would love to claim. Caring only for the safety of her mother and daughter, Everly must fight off attacks from hopeful moneymakers, SWAT teams, evil Yakuza bosses, and just about anyone else in the apartment complex it seems. The plot thickens when those who Everly strives to protect show up at her dangerous apartment, upping the ante with every advancing wave of assassins.
Lynch made his debut directing horror on Wrong Turn 2, which lead to a few projects with buddy Adam Green, and if you’ve seen any of those works, you’ll know the feverish passion he brings to horror cinema. Kills are gruesome, there’s no bullshit, and horror reigns with a bloody, clenched fist – which plays wonderfully into an action-centric piece like Everly. While some directors might attack an action movie of this sort with a mainstream sensibility, Lynch ensures that some level of heightened viciousness seeps into scenes whenever possible. Henchmen don’t get shot, they get downright eviscerated by shotgun blasts. Acid doesn’t just get swallowed, it eats through a victim’s stomach and reappears on the floor accompanied by entrails. There’s a time and place for PG-13 action romps like The Expendables, but Lynch satiates the hunger of blood-thirsty action fans seeking out a little carnage with their gun-fu and swordplay.
Salma Hayek might initially be a questionable choice to lead an action film, really only having Bandidas on her butt-beatin’ resume, but she quickly forgets all those “damsel in distress” roles and grabs the biggest machine gun possible. Contained solely in one apartment, Hayek’s job becomes keeping sequences fresh, emotions high, and intensity ravenous, and she does so like a seasoned veteran. Watching the violent firecracker blast her way through hordes of baddies becomes more and more fun, busting out hand-to-hand tussling when necessary and grasping a strong independent-woman vibe like an ass-kicking Beyonce. Everly is a sinfully sexy killer with the deadliest of dance moves, and Hayek brings out an intimidating confidence that also acknowledges an acceptance of death that adds a grave intrigue to her doomed escape attempt. Honestly, if anyone is going to take me out, I’d die a little happier knowing Salma Hayek would be the last woman I ever see.
Lynch plays around with the season of Christmas in Everly, scoring messy clean-up scenes and more somber scrolling death-recaps with classic Christmas tunes that bring a darkness to jovial times. This feels a tad bit out of place and forgotten at times, but it’s also a fun little tag-along detail that adds another layer of depth to Everly’s shoot-em-up scenario. Visuals do have a tendency to become a little glossy and too sound-stagey, which can’t be avoided thanks to a one-location shoot, but a little authenticity is lost when shots struggle to psychically plant us in Everly’s apartment. But it’s all in destructively good fun, and these details don’t mean jack when an RPG rocket flies through a window and causes a fireball to destroy half the apartment.
Everly is a horror fan’s action flick, not because of scares, but because of the vile eye for detail that Joe Lynch so gleefully achieves through Edgar-Wright-like lightning edits and kung-fu-minded choreography. If a character is holding a katana, you better believe there’s going to be an opened corpse waiting to make itself known in the not-too-distant future. Everly is exciting, in-your-face action with a claustrophobic twist, becoming tastier with the addition of a strong yet sultry Latino spice, plus a few secret ingredients in a Sadist and a Masochist. Don’t worry, I’ll let you uncover those Asian-influenced nuggets on your own.
Eh, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for a woman in heels holding a machine gun – especially when that woman is Salma Hayek.
Everly is a sleek, air-tight action-thriller that loves playing by its own rules, making a certifiable action star out of Salma Hayek.