There is a moment in Fede Alvarez’s articleless remake of The Evil Dead that offers a hint of the condescension to come; an utter lack of faith in the audience or a confidence crisis in storytelling. After a thoroughly unnecessary prologue involving the exorcism of a dead-ite girl in the basement filled with more cat corpses and mutant hillbillies than Sleepwalkers and The Hills Have Eyes combined and our younger, prettier, twentysomethings come to the cabin in the woods to become, as they say, “spam in a cabin.” Fifteen minutes after an interminable stretch of graceless character building and (forgive me) soul sucking serio-tragic exposition, the characters find themselves down in the burned out foundation from the prologue, dead kitties still hanging from the charred joists. This is when the editing geniuses behind the film feel the need to flash back to the prologue to remind us that, you know, an ‘evil dead’ thing was going on in this creepy woodland cottage. This is immediately followed by the reveal of the Necronomicon, the evil book that releases demons into the world. Here it is not only fully annotated in large bloody english Cliff-Notes over the ancient text, but also, far more insultingly, the book has a handy-dandy series of pictures to explain things after each scene and to tell the audience what is going to happen next. If this is satire of the excesses of Raimi’s original trilogy (Dead By Dawn is itself a parody-laced remake-slash-continuation of sorts – if you don’t know, don’t ask) the he is of the most subtlest sort. (Hint: This is not the case.)
Alvarez and co-writers Rodo Sayagues, with script-polisher Diablo Cody, are utter slaves to burying references and Evil Easter Eggs from the original trilogy that things threaten to make this film more of a distracting dialogue with what came before, not to mention rather unsuccessful games of bait-and-switch in the screenplay. “The Classic” Delta 88 Oldsmobile, the charming rustbucket of a vehicle which takes on an increasing significance in the original films, shows up here not as an old clunker, but more a piece of impostor art object to be used as pretty object for our pretty actress to sit upon. I single out the remade car not as a miffed Raimi fanboy (of which I assure you, after a few too many Spiderman flicks and Disney Oz prequels, I am not) but rather that an ill executed homage such as this is indicative of the whole enterprise. But wait, there is more. At the other end of the pander-spectrum are things of such pathological minutiae that I am kind of embarrassed to know of their existence at all, such a necklace chain sculpted into the shape of skull (again don’t ask – it is not really that important.)
Excess is the name of the game in these films, and that is not a problem per se. What was the original if not the combination of the Friday 13th slasher mixed with the highlight reel of all The Exorcist pea-soup moments shaken and cooked into a high energy speedball of manic-camerawork. It worked as slapstick, it worked as a frightening hallucination. The remake is merely an engine for gore. Painful, quite realistic gore. A wet-dream for those who look for this type of thing, that somehow survived NC-17 censorship. Tree rape and limb-severings aplenty are done so with effects that slickly combine old-school practical and modern digital craft. So much time is spent getting rusty nails propelled into arms and faces that the filmmakers forgot to make it riveting (sorry) in any other way. If onscreen suffering floats your boat, and you’ve not tired of the Torture Porn cycle that I thought was well behind us at this point, then this is the horror film for you. Because Evil Dead is not scary, or even interesting.
There is, I believe, a genuine intent here to make you care about the characters. It simply fails. A fresh-faced school teacher and his friends help their junkie pal Mia in detox from a heroin addiction. They pull in Mia’s long-absent brother (and his nursing student girlfriend) to help provide further emotional and medical support. Yes, this handily provides a reason why these callow young things might linger longer than is wise after Teach reads the Shaitan-book and Mia starts coughing up blood. It provides a reason why they might be inclined to hurl super-strong and pupil-dilated Mia into the basement and let her rot in her own juices. But the addiction thread is completely dropped after so much agonizing set-up. A better movie might have found a way to tie in the drugs and the noble intentions with the demonic proceeds happening in the dark forest. Hell, with a remake in a sub-genre that saw two significantly ambitious entries last year, let’s agree it is kind of necessary. I was not a fan of Cabin in the Woods for dropping any pre-tense of actual horror in order to comically deconstruct horror films. Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard and company at least had an idea for their film for which they committed to fully. They did not drop the storytelling or semblance of character at the first opportunity to break out the Karo syrup. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Resolution, which somehow was even more meta than CitW, takes the notion of narrative (and found footage) and seamlessly blends it with a detox-in-the-woods story that makes anything (outside the torture) in Evil Dead feels embarrassingly amateur hour.
The final nail in the cabin (OK, I’ll stop) is the coyness in the delivery of plot points this remake delivers in relation to the original. Perhaps ‘coy’ is the wrong word and gives too much credit. Let’s say instead, self-satisfied. They fail to exist in any sort of novel or interesting, or even rote fashion, but rather they pander to the major ‘groovy’ beats of the original three films for its own cult audience. They try cleverness by either hiding or shuffling around key things, but this completely fails because this shell game only exists in conversation with the original films, leaving the remake stranded on its own easy crutches. Any semblance of nihilism that one might be inclined to award some credit to, the ‘horror should be soul crushingly horrific’ idea, is disingenuous here because it is catering to a bloodthirsty crowd who are fine with a polished slaughter. And, if I may hazard a guess, probably don’t get much ‘horror’ out of it, only entertainment. All the slick lighting, framing and meticulous craft in the destruction of the human body is enough to swallow your horror loving soul in the same way junk food offers instant gratification only to be followed by a sore teeth and an empty stomach. It’s a trick, get some snacks.