At the start of Manifest Evil, a young Matthew Franklin (Ca’Ron Jaden Coleman, This is Us) sits playing with toy soldiers. He wanders outside and a hand stretches out of the barn becoming him. Inside his mother is taking part in a satanic ritual, and Mathew soon becomes a part of it as well, whether he wants to be or not.
Years later Matthew (Leon M. Brown, Escape from Area 51) has grown up to become not just a soldier but an officer in the Marines in charge of new recruits. He’s also grown up to have some serious issues, something we learn as we watch him flog himself until his shirt is bloody. His day only gets worse when one of the new recruits is wearing a strange symbol around her neck. He flips out and begins to have flashbacks to the opening ritual. As if that isn’t bad enough another of the recruits flips and kills themselves.
Manifest Evil has plenty going on in the opening minutes but none of it is explained. From the shooting, we jump to a woman (Sheila Mears, Wade in the Water) chanting the same phrase as the man who killed himself. She crosses off a picture of him then turns over a tarot onto another picture. We see that woman hang herself. She then turns another death card over onto Mathew’s photograph.
Director Jena Serbu (Smartass, Eye of the Tiger; Thrill of the Fight) and writer Leon M. Brown seem to be trying to make a horror version of Full Metal Jacket’s boot camp segment but the results are neither scary nor intense. Manifest Evil is shot with so many quick edits and scenes that are so short they border on subliminal, you’re more likely to get a headache than be scared.
Eventually, this spills over and affects Matthew’s relationship with his wife Jessica (Ambre Anderson, You’re Nobody ’til Somebody Kills You) and daughter Dawn (Deja Monique Cruz, Goals, Papi Chulo). So now we have dull domestic drama added to what is turning out to be some kind of occult conspiracy. We also find out that the woman with the tarot cards is Matthew’s mother, something that probably should have been saved for a final act reveal to give Manifest Evil some kind of mystery or suspense.
All of this is so dull and poorly executed that I’m sure a lot of viewers will have bailed out by the halfway mark. If I wasn’t reviewing it I certainly would have been gone even before Carl (Ian Stanley, They Live in the Grey, 8 Days to Hell) and Melanie (Justine Wachsberger, 4/20 Massacre, Divergent), two recruits into witchcraft, start hexing him.
I don’t expect a film like Manifest Evil to have documentary-level accuracy but the script has the kinds of mistakes that are so obvious you can’t help notice them. It’s pretty well established that Wiccans don’t worship Satan, but here they do. And while boot camp has become coed in the past year or so, I’m pretty sure making a 130 pound woman fight a 190 pound man would be frowned on by the higher-ups.
About the only time Manifest Evil even approaches entertaining is when we get to hear lines like “Did you put a demon in my husband?”. There aren’t even any effects to help liven things up, even the scenes of Matthew becoming possessed are just a series of shots of him writhing sped up and edited into jerky motions that look anything but frightening.
There is one thing about Manifest Evil that is truly terrifying. A film festival exists with such low standards that it was awarded multiple awards including Best Feature. Manifest Evil is available to stream, but all that will manifest is boredom. For some better examples of demonic doings, check out Film Tagger.