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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: The Evil Dead

Sam Raimi's Evil Dead Trilogy is a longtime favorite of mine. I have fond memories of watching Army of Darkness with my father multiple times. The films were either intentionally or unintentionally funny, depending on which you were watching and your sense of humor. The series also contained some the best cinematography you'll ever see in a horror franchise, which sadly isn't normally known for its technical merits (Carpenter, Polanski and Kubrick excepted) and lastly a fascinating central character who takes the idea of the "constantly running victim" and turns it on its head not unlike what Joss Whedon would do years later with the concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Evil Dead via Sam Raimi was far ahead of its time. This year's remake of his freshman feature, directed by Fede Alvarez and produced by Raimi and original series lead Bruce Campbell, had some promise based on Raimi's "okay-ing" the production. Sadly, the Raimi must have still been in homogenized Spider-Man 3/Oz The Great and Powerful mold when he signed off, as this Evil Dead is painfully generic and frankly misses the point of what makes the original films work.

Warning: Here there be spoilers, slightly...

The plot of the remake basically charts the same path of the film its emulating, five people in their mid-twenties head off to a cabin in the woods. The remake adds an additional wrinkle in that instead of this being a getaway, four of the friends are staging an intervention for the fifth, Mia (Jane Levy) who is trying to kick her addition to heroin, her friends in support include her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), teacher Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) who is an RN and reminds you of that fact quite a few times. In the midst of Mia having a withdrawal, Eric and David discover a hidden basement underneath the cabin, full of skinned cats, and within a room in the basement, they find a copy of the Necronomicon. Eric, like an unironic version of the protagonist in Cabin in the Woods, decides to start reading from the book aloud. A demonic force begins to terrorize the five friends.
That comparison to Cabin in the Woods is fairly apt, as Evil Dead plays like that film but completely straight, without any of the wit that Whedon and Drew Goddard infused into their horror take-down last year. Everything about Evil Dead simply feels like an attempt to grab an audience that gravitates more towards Saw than say... Drag Me to Hell, unfortunately, someone should have told Alvarez that he's about a decade too late to take advantage of the "torture-porn" trend. The gore, which is admittedly impressive as it uses no CGI, is surprisingly the film's main positive aspect really. Yet, due to the fact that there was clearly so much concentration on creating a "gross-out" atmosphere, the script (written by Alvarez, with some kind of touch-up work by Diablo Cody) basically forgoes not only any sense of dread but also necessary character development. Everyone in the film feels like a cipher, and for the first 30 minutes I was dying for some kind of momentum in the storytelling just so something of interest would occur. Because there is no Ash character in the film, and no one else is really properly defined, the audience has no one to root for and frankly no one to care about when these personality devoid individuals begin to get grossly pared off.

There are many aspects of the film that just do not work at all; for example, the demonic force that was wonderfully malevolent in the original series has basically been turned into a bad case of rabies, as Hannah was quick to note last night. Also, attempts at trying to deliver franchise-esque lines like "I'll devour your soul" hit with a dull thud, and the additions to the plot, such as the addiction storyline and the ritualistic nature of possessions fail. The former stumbles because it creates a metaphor that would only connect were the characters at all relatable or sympathetic, and the latter is simply a complexity that the plot did not require. The utter breaking point for me though, was during the non-sensical climax. It's incredibly contradictory of the rest of the film's tone, fairly stupid; and while an attempt at subverting the expectations of the Evil Dead audiences, it reeks of star-power over coming logic. It's just a moment of adding insult to injury in an already flawed film. Had Alvarez gone for a more over the top tone, rather than the deadly serious one that permeates most of the work, perhaps I would have bought into it. The final confrontation is a massive let down as well.

If there are any positives to take away from the experience, it's certainly that gore-hounds in the audience will find themselves satisfied and Alvarez definitely is entering Dario Argento territory here. The film also looks very good from a shooting perspective. What bothers me though about Alvarez's style, is that in an attempt to rope in the Raimi fans, he goes too far out of his way to ape Raimi's style. There are many good directors that are inspired by the masters that come before them, but they take those elements and create their own signature form. Alvarez, admittedly a young director, basically traces Raimi here in various sequences and shots, when I would have preferred he go in the Zack Snyder "Dawn of the Dead" remake mold and make it his own. Winks and nods are fine, downright copying feels lazy and uncreative.

As stated earlier, this attempt to remake Evil Dead completely misses the point of what made the original film successful in the first place. The Evil Dead was Raimi's attempt get something in the cinema on a micro-budget with people that weren't really actors (Campbell excepted). Regardless it had a sense of inventiveness, particularly it's camera-work, sense of foreboding atmosphere, somewhat over the top hilarity, and the fact that its defied genre-conventions in its day by having a male hero be the one to win the day at the end which stood in stark contrast to the female-led Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, etc. When Raimi actually had more money, he created a quasi-comedy out of its sequel, and basically made a genre in the process. Raimi knew what worked and what didn't when he had the means, while Alvarez was clearly given lots of room to breathe here dollar-wise, he basically made a slicker version of a story that didn't need to be retold in the first place.

For what it's worth, Evil Dead isn't the worst film I've seen this year, though that really isn't saying much. It's a movie that feels inessential, and an attempt to produce some last minute horror dollars before the Summer blockbuster months come around. In truth, we already got what is probably the best Evil Dead remake possible in Cabin in the Woods. This remake basically heightens my appreciation of the original, so in that respect it succeeds. I wish there had been enough sense to leave well enough alone, though I will admit, I'll be the first to line up if Raimi's Army of Darkness 2 ever sees the light of day.

I give it a D+
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1 comment:

  1. I think I read where the success of this 'remake' will determine the likelihood of Army 2 ever seeing light of day. Here's hoping!
    I liked it, but I'm a horror-guy.
    I found humor in it, actually laughed out loud several times, but man was it subtle - the film seemed to play it straight so the humor was probably overlooked by most.
    I found the score super distracting. It was so loud & never left any breathing room. During the terror, it was fitting, but in sentimental scenes it felt cheesy.


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