Film Review: Evil Dead (Tri-Star)




by Clayton Shank


“The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience”


This was the hook on the first promo poster for Fede Alvarez‘s remake of Sam Raimi‘s 1981 horror classic, The Evil Dead. With declarations like that, we would hope for something genre defining and blood curling. Unfortunately, what we get lies somewhere between “some of this was really cool” and “oh my sweet Jesus it can’t be this bad”. While boasting some creepy shots and entertaining camp, Evil Dead is a far cry from the backwoods glee we’ve shared with Bruce Campbell, and an appropriately blah entry into the sub-genre wasteland of horror remakes.

After a brief, humorous prologue that delights in misdirection, we’re introduced to 5 friends taking a ride to a secluded wilderness cabin. By now, we know the intro to this story by heart: helicopter shot tracks the car as it snakes along windy, mountain roads through a series of slow, steady dissolves; the teens arrive at the cabin and are given brief dialogue establishing the “characters” they will be playing; the in-group drama that will take a background to the carnage is plainly laid out; someone in the group then does something unfathomably stupid that starts the bloodletting. The only thing missing here is taking advice from a twisted hick at a gas station.

To my chagrin, the setup is stock, but where Evil Dead immediately flies off the rails is how astonishingly inept it is handling these tropes. We focus in on Mia (Jane Levy), the troubled one of the group that is battling a drug addiction (we are to assume it’s heroin, but it could easily be something else in the same vein). She is at the cabin to go cold turkey, but as we’re informed, this kind of intervention has happened before and failed miserably. The rest of the group, led by Mia’s brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), decide to pull a fast one. No matter how insane with withdrawals Mia gets, she will not be allowed to leave the cabin. All options to restrain her are on the table. Right away, Evil Dead lost me. For starters, Mia in no way, shape or form looks like a strung out drug addict. At worst, she’s a little emo and superficially depressed. She probably works at Hot Topic. Next, the acting and dialogue is so amateur at times I literally cringed. Alvarez wrote his own script with a little help, and this should not happen again. I’m told Diablo Cody (Juno) wrote the first draft, but I’d be shocked if any of her work made it in here. Even though I’m not a huge fan of her self-referential pop style, she can at least spin a few phrases to keep you engaged in a scene.

After some basic getting-to-know-the-rickety-cabin setup scenes, the group discovers someone has broken in and there’s an awful smell emanating from the cellar. That smell belongs to someone’s demented ritual that entailed stringing up dead, rotting animal carcasses. Plus, there’s a book. Fans of Evil Dead know this book well. Other than looking centuries old it has distinct features. Wrapped around the book securely is a couple strands of barbed wire, and the cover appears to be a stitched mosaic of human skin. Maybe a collection of bedtime stories to lull Leatherface to sleep? It’s at this crucial juncture that suspension of disbelief will hit staggering highs, so you’ll either roll with it or roll your eyes (like me). Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), the only other male in the group, decides to take the book back into the cabin and, as you do, clips the barbed wire and starts reading it. Raimi had a much better explanation for how this happened, meaning the book wasn’t opened out of wanton stupidity. As a medium of satanic ghoulishness, I must say the book’s design is superlative. If such a portal to the underworld actually existed, I suspect it would look something like this. We all know the story from here: Eric reads a series of spells in some dead language, baddies show up and begin to possess and then off our paper characters.

Like Raimi’s original (I hate to keep comparing the two, but I’ve decided it’s unavoidable), the characters, even Ash, are not particularly deep and deserving of our sympathies. That being said, Ash made up for this by being one bad motherfucker.  The difference is the original Evil Dead was a triumph of practical effects, gruesome scenarios, daring camerawork and cumulatively, atmosphere. Other than the obvious difference of the lead character’s sex, there’s not much here that Alvarez can claim to be his own. Sure, some of the weapons have changed and he’s working with a bigger budget (Raimi’s cost a scant 375,000), but there’s just not enough ingenuity to linger in the memory.

Bruce Campbell in the original Evil Dead series.

Bruce Campbell in the original Evil Dead series.

Evil Dead also suffers from that oldest of slasher film misgivings, the unflinching tendency for the characters to, when presented, make the worst choice imaginable. I’ve already discussed the catalyst for this series of unfortunate events, but heed my warning, it only gets worse from there. To augment the pain of the frustrated viewer, the music cues are atrocious. Alvarez squanders nearly every potentially effective scare with a score that is much too involved for its own good. If you doubt this after seeing the film, go back and re-imagine the effect it would have had had its non-diagetic sounds been eliminated. This alone may have rescued Evil Dead.

At this point, I’m evidently bashing the film into oblivion, so I’d like to get on the record the one thing I thought did work. The gore. Oh, the gore. Rest assured, your Patrick Bateman-esque bloodlust is firmly satiated here. Dismembered limbs by the character’s own hands, smashing of heads with blunt objects, and even a nail gun are used to great effect. Getting back to the promo poster, I seriously hope the filmmakers aren’t conflating blood and violence as terror. If they’re operating under this faulty definition, then this remake is a stunning success. Terror, as I have come to experience it at the movies, is represented as some psychological tapestry of anticipation, suspense and hopelessness. Evil Dead evokes many visceral reactions on the screen, some of them, as with a specific use of a chainsaw, are satisfying, but terror is certainly not one of them. A worthy remake to an original of this caliber would have to be equally as inventive and atmospheric, and running with this expectation, Evil Dead should have stayed dead.

*Note* Sit through the end credits for a giddy surprise.

Official Evil Dead Website


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