Friday, April 5, 2013

Evil Dead

Review by Matt Finley

So they remade THE EVIL DEAD.

Most of what I have to say on this topic is intensely refracted through a subjective lens of fandom for the original – meaning wholly non-objective and generally cranky. I recognize, however, that there are folks who have never watched THE EVIL DEAD, have no intention of checking it out, but still wanna experience some raw theatrical thrills without saddling the bulky weight of historical context or fanboy baggage. For you folks, I say go see this movie.

If you don’t know the basic premise, a bunch of 20-somethings head out to a remote cabin, find a skin-bound book full of spooky runes, and unknowingly unleash an ancient evil that overtakes their bodies one by one, resulting in a complete and utter bloodbath.

In first-time feature director Fede Alvarez’s re-imagining, the group of kids comprises Mia (Jane Levy), her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and their childhood buds, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas), all of whom converge upon a family cabin to watch over Mia as she attempts to kick a stubborn heroin habit. Everything’s daisies and detox until they find the book.

What ensues is a fast-paced, incomparably bloody possession film that finds a demonic force leaping from dude to dudette as the possessed and unpossessed alike equip themselves with shotguns, turkey carvers, Exacto knives, machetes, nail guns and chainsaws, and just generally blow the tabs off every available can of whoop-ass. All the while, the survivors must use every splatter-free second to desperately skim through the book in hopes of finding a supernatural off switch.

As modern horror goes, it’s faster, bloodier and far more relentless in its uninterrupted escalation of terror than most of the stuff out there (certainly moreso than SINISTER, which earned a baffling quantity of critical praise). As an integrity-bloated journalist of, like, movies and stuff, I totally recommend EVIL DEAD and give it a bunch of stars out of only slightly more than a bunch.

…as an annoying, overweight geek harfing up words on the interwebs, though: WHIIIIIINE!

I have three bitchy, niggling problems with EVIL DEAD, listed here from most to least nitpicky (I know… stated like a true cantankerous nerd), and all of them deal in some part with the film maker taking the original film’s sense of a massive, all-encompassing evil's assault on a group of unwitting Everykids and making it all maddeningly specific and spelled out to the point where the threat is more knowable than the victims are relatable.

Firstly:  why can’t a bunch of horny, inebriate chilluns just head out into the woods for a vacation anymore? Do kids not go outside unless they’re going to the Apple store or withdrawling?

The entire first act feels a bit leaden as the kids trade broody dialogue about Mia’s addiction, her brother’s absence during their mother’s death, and on and on. Granted, certain facts revealed in the discussion foreshadow later events and, in a screenwritey kinda way, the whole thing plays out nicely as an extended metaphor for addiction - its impact on friends and family, the personal will required to fight it and the losses one inevitably incurs in the process… but none of this makes the film any more relatable or frightening on a pure visceral level.  Plus, Alvarez (and co-writers Rodo Sayagues and Diablo Cody) doesn’t even fully commit to a character-focused narrative - the other three folks may as well be named Nurse-Friend, Evil Book Reading-From Guy and Demon Fodder.  

Secondly: the film sets up an obnoxiously clear set of rules by which the supernatural antagonist operates. Sure, the Necronomicon (which is never addressed by name) is still written in an ancient alphabet, but, in true IKEA fashion, also features plenty of helpful illustrations depicting both the effects of possession and the means by which the demons can be stopped. Insert Tab A into Slot 666.

Given that Painstaking Language Translation Scene hasn’t become a stalwart horror trope alongside, say, Monster Autopsy Bit or Part Where Toplesss Girl Gets Stabbed, I’ll give it some leeway on the demon-ridding instructional. But showing successive series of pictures demonstrating the exact type and order of possessions that will occur? (We see a picture of a girl cutting her face off. Then, guess what one of the girls does! Hint: she doesn’t autopsy a monster.) Talk about a shock dampener.

One of the things that made the original so frightening and exciting was that anything could happen at any moment – as the evil escalated, so, too, did its nefarious, unpredictable methods, all of which eventually became so surreal as to drive its protagonist halfway to madness. In this reimagining, hellspawn literally operate by the book.

Thirdly: EVIL DEAD personifies the demonic presence in a definitive and boring way. Raimi’s original film leveraged Lovecraftian themes to bring us a singular, unknowable force howling through the woods. Incomprehensible, unknowable and timeless. Alvarez basically portrays it as the chick from THE RING. Even the initial incidence of possession occurs by way of – well, remember in JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY when you find out that Jason is actually a little phallic heart worm that people eat and then they turn into Jason? If you don’t, this scene will remind you.

Perhaps most frustrating isn’t that the evil is personified, but that it’s implicitly rooted in a Judeo-Christian background… and functions like it. Whereas THE EVIL DEAD was simultaneously a possession flick, zombie movie and creature feature all rolled up in one slime-belching, Steadicam-wielding tortilla, EVIL DEAD is a straight-up first-world possession narrative (‘cuz we don’t have enough of those), right up to the point where the evil can only infiltrate living, sentient (that’s right – no scrabbling hands) beings, begging the question: shouldn’t it be called Evil Alive?

Yes - both my positive and negative feelings about EVIL DEAD are context dependent. “It’s good compared to most modern horror!”; “It’s lousy compared to the original!” Let’s cut through my capitulations and histrionic grousing and return to the end of paragraph 4 – EVIL DEAD is a strong, effective horror film. Alvarez commits to the original’s lightning pace and uses practical blood and gore make-up to astounding effect, while demonstrating the courage to offer an original take on the story.

Yes, they remade THE EVIL DEAD. More importantly, though, they made EVIL DEAD. (3 out of 4 Stars)

1 comment:

  1. I think the mere fact of this film is what killed Margaret Thatcher on its opening weekend. Iron Lady or not, she could only withstand so much.


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