Consumer guidance first: Everly went down a storm at Austin’s annual Fantastic Fest, where it was well-received by viewers inclined to enjoy all things “badass” in a fanboy idiom. Director Joe Lynch comes by this sensibility presumably honestly and from a place of deep affection (the title of his previous feature, Knights Of Badassdom, says it all). As such, viewers similarly convinced that girls with guns versus sadistic and eccentric Japanese killers equals automatic entertainment will probably be gratified.
Everly doesn’t conceal its oft-ripped-off influences. From Die Hard it borrows both its Christmas season setting—hammered home with an endless string of heavily ironic carols (“Deck The Halls” while dead bodies are being cleaned away and so on)—and its one-set limitations. Kidnapped four years earlier and forced into prostitution by Japanese crime lord Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe), Everly (Salma Hayek) has been working with the police to bring her captor down; he’s found out and sent an army of assassins to kill her. Confined to her apartment and surrounding hallways, Everly fights off fellow prostitutes dressed in schoolgirl skirts (shades of both Sucker Punch and Kill Bill), tries to keep her mother (Laura Cepeda) and daughter (Aisha Ayamah) safe, and kills everyone in sight.
The pace is busy without eliciting excitement, and screenwriter Yale Hannon’s dialogue trends toward the un-cleverly crude, as in Everly’s taunt, “Tell Taiko he can lick my balls” or this representative exchange between two people: “Shit!” “Fuck!” “That’s what I said!” Things become significantly more unpleasant with the arrival of a torturer named, straightforwardly, The Sadist (Togo Igawa), and the film builds toward prolonged threats of direct, unpleasant mutilation.
There are occasional imaginative variants on bloody set pieces, like a Shining-indebted line of compressed blood shooting out between two elevator doors closing on henchmen as a grenade explodes. But Everly mostly sticks to the tried and true, its fights staged well enough to be clear but without the benefit of imaginative choreography or particularly stylish presentation. (The camera, predictably, leers at Hayek quite a bit, getting her into leopard-print heels shown in loving close-up before one shootout and making sure to soak her clingy shirt later on.) Alternating patches of violence with sticky sentiment between Everly and her mother and/or daughter, the film isn’t particularly convincing either as a rousing anthology of bloodsport set pieces or a deeply felt portrait of revenge and reunion. There’s the pervasive feeling that this is a prefab cult film that doesn’t need to try too hard, instead offering cosmetic variations from a very limited playbook of gestures meant to provoke Pavlovian cries of “Awesome!”