With Everly, the third feature from Joe Lynch (and only the second for which he'll take credit), the director takes a huge leap forward as a filmmaker, creating what is destined to become a new cult action classic. He directs it like he's got something to prove, and prove something he does. Some smart producer is going to give Lynch the keys to a pretty big castle based on the work he does here.
Described by Lynch as Die Hard in a room, Everly stars Salma Hayek as the title character, single mother and former girlfriend of a mob boss who is found out as police informant as the movie opens. For the rest of the running time, Everly is trapped in a single apartment and must face a revolving door of assassins -- each more outrageous than the last -- while desperately trying to stay alive to protect her mother and young daughter.
Disclosure: I am an unabashed fan of Joe Lynch. I have written about him many times on this site because he's a filmmaker who I want to see get the success he deserves. I listen to his podcast (co-hosted with Adam Green, of whom I am also a big fan) The Movie Crypt every week. I love Holliston, the sitcom on which he is a star and producer. I think Wrong Turn 2 is one of the best DTV horror movies I've ever seen and the only film in that franchise worth a goddamn. And when Lynch was going through his Knights of Badassdom debacle over the last two years, I was firmly and very vocally on team Lynch (#NotJoe'sCut). This doesn't not mean that I am automatically going to like Everly just because Joe Lynch directed it. But the fact that I think Everly is good -- like, really good -- is yet another reason I like Joe Lynch so much.
So with Everly we get the first movie made by Joe Lynch from the ground up. His first movie, Wrong Turn 2, was a for-hire gig that got his foot in the door. His second, Knights of Badassdom, was also for-hire, but you can't even tell it's Joe Lynch's movie (because it isn't; the film was taken away and released unfinished). Here's a movie for which he wrote the story and contributed to the screenplay, which is credited only to his friend Yale Hannon (Lynch retains story credit). The script was on the Black List at one point, which I have to believe is mostly because of the audaciousness of the idea -- we've seen so many "Die Hard in a..." rip-offs, but never one with the balls to remain in a single room the whole time. As a representation of what a purely "Joe Lynch movie" looks like, Everly is a blast: kinetic, violent, and funny in a way that speaks to a lot of technical know-how but just twisted enough to feel like it comes from a specific voice.
What I love about the film -- besides the way the thing moves -- is how it juggles a whole bunch of tones and influences at the same time. It's not a checklist of things that Lynch is referencing; he's just absorbed so many films in his lifetime that they've all rattled together in his brain and regurgitated out on screen here. It feels, at times, like the movies Jack Hill used to make in the '70s. Sometimes it's thrilling in an action movie way; other times, our enjoyment of the violence is turned against us. Sometimes it's melodramatic and operatic; other times, its emotion is sincere. Everly has a relationship with a man who is bleeding out on her couch (credited only as "Dead Man" and played by Akie Kotabe) that's one of the best things about the movie. His last gesture is genuinely moving, and the fact that moments like this can coexist in the same movie with the brilliant exploding elevator gag is a testament to just what a fascinatingly off-kilter ride Everly is.
Lynch himself has said (in an interview with our friend Heather Wixson) that Everly is his version of a Takashi Miike film. That comes through loud and clear, between the energy of the violence, the bursts of black comedy and ultimately just how fucking crazy the movie gets; when one of the assassins -- an outlandish sadist who travels with kabuki'd-out sidekicks -- shows up and the movie gets really dark and twisted, it's impossible not to think of Miike. Again, though, it's not an imitation. It's just another of the voices in Lynch's head that bleeds its way out onto the screen. And bleeds and bleeds and bleeds.
Salma Hayek is great. She has to be; she's carrying the movie. It's fun to see her kick ass, at which she is entirely credible, and the movie doesn't make the mistake of making her an action hero by turning her into "one of the guys." Everly never loses her femininity nor her maternity, and it's great to see a female action hero who is much defined by her gender as it is irrelevant to her abilities. This is a role that was once attached to Kate Hudson, and while I'm fascinated by the idea of Li'l Goldie Hawn: Action Hero, I have a suspicion that that's exactly what we would have gotten -- an action movie in which a slight, skinny woman fires a lot of guns. Hayek is slight as well, but in a different way: she's shorter, but earthier and more voluptuous. Neither she nor Lynch ever push her sexuality, but they don't need to -- it is impossible for Hayek to not be sexy (the mix of sex and violence starts the movie off in an icky place which, again, recalls the movie's '70s exploitation roots). She also never pushes the "badass chick" angle, which might be my favorite thing about her performance. Every time Everly fires a gun, it is not from a place of some bullshit backstory in which she's a trained killer. It comes only from a place of necessity. She has to survive.But ultimately, Everly is Lynch's show. He directs the shit out of it. I would say that his work here is going to launch him to "bigger and better" things, but that would imply that there is something wrong with the scale and quality of Everly. It is exactly the movie it should be, never obviously treading water nor outgrowing its admittedly gimmicky hook. Enough weird shit keeps coming in and out of the room that, coupled with Hayek's sense of panic about keeping her family safe, keeps us consistently invested as well as entertained. The timing of sequences is never exactly what you think it's going be (editor Evan Schiff and cinematographer Steve Gainer deserve special mention for the breathless look and pace), as just when you think Everly's in for the fight of her life she manages to take out the next round of killers in hasty and often unexpected ways. It's the rare high-concept movie that at once lives up to and exceeds its own premise.