By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci and Elizabeth Blackmore
The remake of 1981’s seminal Sam Raimi horror vehicle Evil Dead has had a trip to cinemas that is very rarely seen. The film’s announcement sent shivers down the spines of many ‘Dead-ites’ out there, as people were expecting production stills of the seemingly forever in development Evil Dead 4 to show up anytime. Then came news that three people who were the heart of the film’s cult like popularity (director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and star Bruce Campbell) were producing its upcoming remake for the screen. This seemed to calm the nerves of fans fearing that the film would get the Platinum Dunes treatment. And then, the film’s promotion machine kicked into high gear. Red band clips featuring vomited blood and sliced off tongues surfaced. In these clips, there was not one character’s name uttered. Yet, there were cuts and dismemberments fully on display. Not to mention, walking past posters that proclaimed Evil Dead ‘The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience,’ I couldn’t help but wonder why they were shining a light on something that the original films were against: non subtlety. So, now that I have finally seen 2013’s version of Evil Dead, did it live up to any sort of horrific expectations?
Yes. Well, sort of. Evil Dead’s plot is still pretty much the same as the original, with a slight wrinkle added. Mia (Levy) hasn’t had the best of lives. Her mentally ill mother has died, and she deals with it by plunging head first into a life of drug use. In an effort to quit cold turkey, she’s decided to bring her brother David (Fernandez), his girlfriend Natalie (Blackmore), and her two friends Olivia (Lucas) & Eric (Pucci) to a, you guessed it, cabin in the woods. The friends make a pact that no matter how dire Mia‘s attempts at a relapse get, they will not drive her home. One day, they find a book with a cover seemingly made of human skin. It contains warnings to never repeat the magic words, or else! I will not spoil what happens from there, but let’s just say it has to do with the ‘or else.‘ Evil Dead is the type of film that if done wrong, could be seen as a lose-lose situation. It is a rock to please its hardcore fans, and a hard place to add enough of a modern-day aesthetic so that people coming in fresh can see enough good things to judge it on its own merits. And while Fede Alverez (making his feature film debut after Raimi saw his short called Panic Attack, which is well worth seeking out) gets a lot right, he unfortunately gets a lot of things wrong as well.Let’s start with the positive: Evil Dead, for all intents and purposes, is the type of film that fans of the red stuff have been rooting what seems like decades for. Believe it or not, even the red band trailers did not even touch upon everything that happens within this puppy‘s running time. It is somewhat shocking that they were able to get some of these things past the MPAA. There are plenty of slashes, severing and yes, tree abuses to be seen within the film’s timeframe, and there is no need to worry much about character development. As a fan of old school horror films, this was actually a welcome commodity. Hardly any CGI blood is shown, and it is painfully obvious that all of these actors had to put up with dirty clingy red clothes and stingy eyes as they slept at night (the modern-day Exorcist looking mask looked particularly uncomfortable.) Also, while all of these characters are pretty much cardboard cutouts, both Pucci and Levy are really decent in their roles, and Evil Dead fans will be happy with the slight nuances and tributes to The Chin and Company that they add. Finally, Raimi did well to hire Alverez to take on this material. From crane shots, focus and unfocused shots of the evil within and his intense staging of horrific circumstances (especially the end), this directing job is nothing short of phenomenal. And of course, there are a few of the famous POV shots from the originals that Raimi made so famous. To put a stamp on it, I felt the exact same way watching Evil Dead that I had while glimpsing James Wan’s Saw in 2004: It was as if I was watching a master of his craft. A director who has the audience in mind. And that is a tough enough thing to accomplish as a young director making an original feature, let alone a remake. Trust me: Alverez is someone to watch.
But maybe not someone to read. Which leads to one of my major problems with Evil Dead. Its script, by Alverez and his partner Rodo Sayagues, is flat, generic, and lazy. People can deal me the ‘but it is just a horror movie’ card all they want. Fact is, in a post Cabin In The Woods horror society, the chance to take material that can be looked at as generic in 1981, and mold it into a scary film about people in a cabin, while building up the tension as they go, is one that unfortunately was not grabbed here. Wasn’t the general purpose of this remake to make it better? Because no one in this production seemed to get the memo. Also, despite what the posters proclaim, Evil Dead is not at all scary. Oh yeah, it throws blood at the screen in buckets. But they did nothing with it to add tension. And this disenchanted me. The longer the film went on, the more desensitized I became. Despite the characteristics that Pucci and Levy brought to their characters, it didn’t have the feel of anything that was written for them. Which with a script that boasts touch ups by Diablo Cody (Juno), is very disappointing to me. There is a complete void of scares, and Evil Dead really has the feel of a film that boasts check boxes being marked as they go along. Why not bring something new to the table?
So how do I feel about Evil Dead? All in all, I would say that horror fans are going to be pleased. There’s plenty of disgusting gore and creative new takes on the old effects to please them all. However, Evil Dead suffers greatly from feeling confused and devoid of any personality. Its impulse to shock rather than build up to its intensity is a bleeding wound that feels impossible to bandage. And now, with talks of both an Evil Dead 4 AND a sequel to this remake being in the works, I have gone from having an undying love for this franchise to a confused relationship with it. Leave it up to a disenchanted movie to do that.
3 out of 5