Violent, trashy, and boasting an outstanding lead turn by Salma Hayek, Everly is the calling card that Joe Lynch deserves.
Joe Lynch is one of those guys who feels like he really should be a better known name in genre movie circles than he is. He first appeared on radars with 2009’s surprisingly great Wrong Turn 2, and followed that up with a segment in the apparently great and under-seen (I am one of those who have yet to see it) Chillerama in 2011. He should have broken big with 2012’s Knights of Badassdom… but the film was taken away from him by its producers, significantly edited down against his will, kept in release window purgatory for well after the initial hype had died down, and then was dumped into cinemas last year with no fanfare, ultimately being a disappointment, albeit one with clear potential (that may exist in the director’s cut that we will likely never get to see).
This is all kind of a shame, but it does make Lynch a lovable underdog for me. I want to see this guy succeed, cos he clearly has a tonne of potential, and a fun and unique approach to gory mayhem. If he could just be given a proper opportunity, one that wasn’t tied down to straight-to-DVD horror movies (that never get their proper due if they are good) or meddled to death by producers, then I knew that he could put out a damn great B-movie. Fortunately, Everly is neither a straight-to-DVD horror flick and nor has it been unnecessarily meddled with by producers, and it makes for as great a calling card as any because Everly is a heck of a lot of fun.
Set in something close to real-time and taking place almost entirely in one apartment, Everly (Salma Hayek) is a woman who was kidnapped four years prior to the film by a Yakuza boss to be his personal sex slave. She has not seen the outside of her apartment nor has she had any contact with her mother Edith (Laura Cepeda) or her young daughter since then, although she has been working with a police officer in an attempt to bring the gang down. Her boss, however, has discovered her betrayal, killed the officer, and ordered some of his men to kill her as punishment. Unable to leave the apartment and with a bounty placed on her head after the initial hit fails, Everly now has to survive long enough for her mother and daughter to meet up with her, so she can give them a rucksack full of cash that will allow them to get away from the Yakuza’s reach.
And… that’s pretty much it. It’s a simple premise for a lean, mean, 90 minute action movie, and Lynch and the film’s writer, Yale Hannon, wring it for every last possible drop. This is a film that careens wildly between tense scenes of uncomfortable violence, to bloody slapstick, to quiet drama, to fun and cathartic action sequences, to extremely pitch-black comedy with barely any time to breathe between each switch. That will probably turn off some people, but I happened to dig it. It reminded me a fair bit of the recent works of Matthew Vaughn, except if he just completely let go of any restraints he placed on himself, it’s that kind of mischievous “we don’t do anything by halves” approach to action filmmaking, albeit a lot bloodier.
Yes, if you like your action bloody with a capital B and violent with a capital V, then Everly is absolutely the movie for you. I haven’t had the pleasure of watching an action movie that is this joyously committed to sending the claret flying everywhere at the cinema in a near-literal age, although there are many scenes that were incredibly hard to watch, so committed is this film to violence-ass violence. That said, though, this isn’t just violence for the sake of violence, although there is some of that. The film actually makes a big deal out of the aftermath of each confrontation and the restrictive nature of Everly’s apartment. The bodies and blood don’t just magically disappear between scenes so they end up informing the geography of later action scenes, as well as a sequence of character-based tension at about the film’s halfway point. Lynch’s horror roots are undoubtedly a reason for the emphasis on the aftermath of these action scenes, but it does make for a refreshing change of pace in a genre that normally enjoys getting away from the aftermath of violence as soon as possible.
Also refreshing, Everly herself. In contrast to the usual emotionless, hyper-competent badasses that usually turn up whenever a woman is given the chance to lead an action movie, Everly is human. She has some talent with firearms, but she’s not a crack shot. She is capable under pressure and in overwhelming situations, but she’s not invincible. She can be tough and determined, but she’s also barely holding it together and running mainly on survival instincts for herself and her family. Everly feels incredibly well-rounded, basically, with multiple sides to her, reminiscent of The Bride from Kill Bill, albeit not as fully developed as that character for obvious reasons. And because Everly feels three-dimensional, she’s that much more relatable, that much more root-able, it makes the times where she’s at risk that much more tense and the times where she’s unleashing hellfire upon her would-be attackers that much more cathartic.
Although the well-handled script provides that groundwork, Salma Hayek is the reason why Everly works so totally as a character. She completely throws herself into the role, switching smoothly and convincingly through each facet of Everly without ever letting one overshadow the rest. She’s convincingly tough, but not excessively so. She’s warm and motherly when necessary, but is also befittingly awkward for someone who hasn’t been able to be a mother for most of her child’s life. Everly’s also in way over her head and Salma lets us, the audience, into that fear throughout almost the whole movie, never burying that fear under excess Tough Girl vibes. A lesser actress would have made the character a complete mess, the kind that alternates between “hyper-competent badass” and “crying trainwreck” with no nuance, but Hayek finds that through-line and nuance, and that helps make Everly feel like a consistent character. She is so good in this role that I sat there wondering why casting directors haven’t put her in everything already, and why she’s mostly been wasting her talents on Happy Madison vehicles for the last half-decade.
(Also, if you’ll let me be frank, it’s pretty damn great to see a non-white non-twentysomething woman being cast in a role like this. Can this happen more often please, movie industry? Thank you!)
However, there are a few things that keep Everly from being one of the very best genre pictures of the last few years. For one, it’s another action movie that has to dangle the threat of rape over its heroine; the film actually opens with the sounds (but not images as the film never shows it) of Everly being raped. I get why this seems necessary, but you don’t need to depict rape in any form for the audience to get the message, especially so in this post-Fury Road world that we reside in, so it’s disappointing to see it happen here. There’s an extended torture scene around the two-thirds mark that goes on just a little too long, seems to take a little too much pleasure in turning the screws and ratcheting up the tension for Everly and the audience, and has a payoff that doesn’t quite justify the amount of time spent on the build-up. And the post-finale beat – and, incidentally, I really liked the final confrontation, although I know that it will rankle the hell out of you if you’re a member of the “WHY DON’T YOU JUST SHOOT THEM?” crowd – feels more than a little gratuitous and openly manipulative in the form that it takes.
For me, though, these ended up being minor quibbles. I found Everly to be an absolute blast, being gloriously violent, loads of dark trashy fun, stylish, and many other redundant words to describe the highly entertained state that I was in for the entire time it was playing in front of me. It’s a fantastic star turn for Salma Hayek, a distinctive calling card for Joe Lynch, and just a damn fine film in its own right. I had a lot of fun with this one, and I can damn-near guarantee that you will too if you like your B-movies bloody, trashy, and damn great. Seek it out.