MOVIE – “Evil Dead” (2013)
DIRECTOR – Fede Alvarez
WRITER – Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, Sam Raimi, Diablo Cody
SIX DEGREES OF CAST & CREW
– Actor Shiloh Fernandez can be seen in 2008’s “Red”, along with king character actor Richard Riehle. This man can then be seen in the impending “The Movie” (2013), along with Fernandez’ “Evil Dead” co-star Lou Taylor Pucci! Also in “Red” is Olivia Thirlby, who can be found in the 2012 film “Nobody Walks”, along with… “Evil Dead” star Jane Levy!
– Original “The Evil Dead” (1981) actress Ellen Sandweiss returns to provide some voice acting. One of her 1981 co-stars was Theresa Tilly, who can be seen in the impending “Old Days (2013), along with Morena Baccarin, formerly of the 2009-’11 sci-fi series, “V”. Seek ye also in that show Scott Hylands, who can then be found in a Trailer Snitch film I will mention at the onset of the review below!
Finally, I’m reviewing something I’d previously Trailer-Snitch’d! I do plan on reviewing “Beyond the Black Rainbow” (2010) at some point, once I watch the movie again without being utterly stunned by the ending.
To watch Sam Raimi’s original 1981 indie-budget horror flick “The Evil Dead” is at times an exercise in patience. One can only empathize with the filmmakers’ ramshackle, DIY efforts for so long, particularly in regard to special effects and makeup, before having to roll one’s eyes at least once. That being said, a logical progression from that feeling is to wonder what Raimi & Co. had in mind and would/could have pulled off with an appropriate budget.
While only co-produced by Raimi, the 2013 re-imagining of “Evil Dead” by director and co-(re)writer Fede Alvarez is very much an earnest attempt to both realize and reinvent what had been endeavoured over 30 years ago. The core of the story remains true: a group of young adults venture to a dirty old cabin in the woods, and proceed to battle demonic forces. Alvarez offers an immediate improvement, in that his group, already different in characters, have an emotionally strong involved reason for being out there: Mia (Jane Levy) is a struggling drug addict, attempting to kick her habit cold-turkey with her best friends and older brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) as a support base. It doesn’t take long for Mia to begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms, demanding to leave. Meanwhile, the others discover some disturbing remnants of prologued occult rituals in the cabin’s cellar. A book is discovered by too-curious-for-his-own-good Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), barely-obscured incantations are read, and (pardon the cliché) all hell breaks loose.
There’s an immediate plot device that is sadly only hinted at being utilized: Eric’s unwitting invocation apparently summons demonic spirits from the surrounding woods, which pursue the already-neurotic Mia as she attempts a getaway. With only a 1:30 running time, the film arguably could have taken a bit more time with Mia’s initial possession, drawing things out by making it seem to her friends like she is slipping into withdrawal-based psychosis, or maybe even secretly had more drugs with her, causing hallucinations or mental damage that the others would dismiss as such until it’s too late. But instead the film jumps almost immediately and rather bluntly into the violent proceedings. This is instead perhaps a bold, if not strong, advantage to the film: There’s no beating around the haunted bushes, and very little what-was-that-noise teasing. The demonic forces apparently see no need in wasting time getting down to business, instilling a breathless sense of severity upon characters and audience, and doing a lot of damage within a short period of time.
The damage in question was, from day one of marketing, always meant to be this film’s drawing power. The very first trailer was red-band, and made no bones about showing some extremely gory scenes from the movie, and certainly not all of them. Co-producer Bruce Campbell at press conferences would say, “We know what you need, you need horror with blood flowing down the screen.” And the film succeeds in this regard, copiously. The gore sequences range from uncoloured surface trauma to borderline-unnecessary mass spillage of blood, with ideas alternately standardized or unique but never cliché or inappropriate. The obvious concern becomes a matter of whether or not the film holds any value beyond making, or merely being, a violent mess.
The movie actually succeeds in cleverly justifying the gory proceedings: The demonic actually explicitly tells what at will happen, in general terms of what violent fates can and will beset any given victim. This is an advantage over just having the gorier sequences be random and gratuitous, lest this be a “Saw”-like excuse to be anatomically clever. It also drives the supernatural element of the plot, in that the book’s contents offer more than just a secret password to let some demons into our world. The characters are instead given the procedural tools to salvage themselves as best they can, if at all, and thus the audience feels a stronger sense of where the tale could go. Furthermore, the deep bond between the siblings Mia and David provides keen cause for emotional manipulation inflicted upon the latter.
This relationship is unfortunately at the expense of any deeper connection between the others. It’s clear that the group are longtime friends. But things like the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship between David and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) are briefly mentioned during initial character introductions, and all but dismissed, even in the wake of Natalie’s victimization. The audience may not be completely unsympathetic to what happens to some of the characters, but the reactions on the part of the other characters seem underwhelming, if perhaps lost in a melange of perpetual trauma and fear. Things will (and do) move too fast for any character to emotively dwell upon bonded friendships, much less soliloquize at length. David and Mia’s relationship is the strongest in the group, and is essentially sufficient in this regard. The acting amongst the young cast is decent throughout. Jane Levy is of particular note, showing great range and future potential. The others carry their parts well enough, if anything slipping on harrowed masks of twitchy shock and pain with convincing ease (watch for Elizabeth Blackmore in this regard).
Technically speaking the film is strong and consistent, flowing in and out of scenes fluidly when necessary and utilizing fairly standard loud-noise-BANG jump cuts with little difficulty, and at times little surprise. At worst the movie can be seen as a mix of 00’s era slasher fare mixed with a loving ode to the original “Evil Dead”, mixing contemporary effects and conventions with tricks alluding to Sam Raimi’s signature style (the twisting-through-the-woods camera, the flooded cellar scene towards the end, etc.). The soundtrack is also unique, subtly weaving in and out or appropriately blasting with tense flair, and making ear-catching use of siren-like tones. The film’s sound effects are a strong point as well, giving necessary texture to the already-disgusting visual effects.
No doubt there are many reviews of this film that dismiss it as gory-without-story, a visual feast with no real point other-than. For the most part I disagree with this. There are reasons for what happens in the movie, we care about what happens to the characters, and a decent story is told, albeit with a somewhat vague but somehow decisive ending. The key for fans of the original film is to not hold to any standards or expectations they might have, and to not compare too deeply. One could just do a side-by-side, point-out-all-the-similarities write up, and not examine the new film on its own merits. But what one should do is try to appreciate what is being attempted here, just as one might appreciate what was being attempted in the original, without dismissing either as a mess.
RATING – 3.5 denim jackets out of 5
STINGER – Watch past the credits.