Review: Evil Dead

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.

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antho42
Guest

I walk out. Rubbish, absolute rubbish. So much unnecessary exposition and flashbacks.

Jonathan
Guest

Wow… a walk out? It takes a LOT for me to walk out of a film. In fact, I think the only film I’ve ever walked out on was ENVY, that Ben Stiller and Jack Black disaster which also is the only movie that I’ve ever fell asleep at.

As for this, I wish that I was interested, but I’m not. I am curious if the rumors about this converging with a new traditional Evil Dead sequel are true though.

Andrew James
Admin

I can’t (and don’t) really disagree with any of the points in this review. However, the effectiveness of the gore and possession really do shine through all the typical, modern day, “teens in a cabin” movie.

The genius behind Cabin in the Woods this most certainly is not. But kudos to a slasher/horror movie being made without one single jump scare (that I can recall). The aural cues and ferociousness of the gore was enough to keep me entertained.

My chief criticism is that the movie is simply too long – funny to say about a 90 minute film, but all of the stuff I like about this movie got to be a bit repetitive and bordering on seat-squirming in the last ten minutes (though the chainsaw bit was chuckle worthy awesomeness).

Andrew James
Admin

Oh, and did you stay for the closing credits Kurt? They looked and sounded great.

The post-credits stinger was (a word I HATE to use…) pandering dumbness.

Kurt Halfyard
Guest

I didn’t stay for the stinger, but I heard about it. And yes, the title sequence shoved to the end is GORGEOUS.

Angie
Guest

I enjoyed new Evil Dead, it was good not great. The effects, look of the film, & levy’s performance all did it for me. Maybe because I don’t love any of the first three films it was easier for me to like this one.

Sean Kelly
Guest

Even though I don’t see the film until Wednesday (for my birthday), I thought that I should explain why I have been very grumpy towards Kurt’s negative feelings towards the film.

Usually I just let negative thoughts slide (everyone has the right to their own opinion), however I was quite looking forward to seeing this film (ever since I first saw the trailer, which proved that this could the exception when it comes to film remakes).

Kurt saw the film three weeks prior to its release and started trashing the film at every opportunity. The last thing I wanted was for someone to burst my bubble on a film that I have been very excited to see (for my birthday no less). Also the fact that Kurt decided to give his opinions immediately, without waiting until the film was released, also annoyed me.

So, that is why I have a been a lot more grumpy and confrontational toward Kurt over the last few days.

I look forward to debating the film properly when I see it.

Kurt Halfyard
Guest

Admittedly I held off my review until the day before the film was released, and Sony Pictures did a shit-load of pre-screenings across Canada and the US, so there were a number of people (mainly hard-core genre fans) who had seen the film already.

Sean Kelly
Guest

I’m talking more about your comments about the film on Facebook and Twitter, plus your brief comments on a few of the recent Cinecasts (including you sounding quite disgusted on the last episode at the prospect of talking about the film).

I currently don’t get to go to many advanced screenings of films, but when I do, I’ve made it a habit not to publicly say ANYTHING about the film until its release date. I’m just not one of those people.

Kurt
Guest

Social media exists and many film studios are more than happy to have the blogger community act as ‘marketing materials’ for their movies, advance word of mouth and all that.

I say, it cuts both ways. If a movie is shit (from my perspective), I’d rather let people know in the forums I have access to.

(maybe I won’t be invited to any more advance screenings…)

Sean Kelly
Guest

It’s definitely a slippery slope. I usually gauge whether or not I tweet about a screening by how far in advance it is. If it’s a month in advance I’ll wait, but if it’s a few days before I’d probably say something.

Then there’s test screenings, which technically you are not allowed to write anything about period (though I do admit there was a marketing-based test screening I saw last year, in which I posted a review of the film when it was released).

Kurt
Guest

This situation was rather wacky, it wasn’t a press screening, although all the local press was invited to it, because there would be no press screening. INstead it was a WORD OF MOUTH, and courtesy screening for SONY PICTURES employees and such.

I feel no remorse about how I used social media in this case, nor my talking on the podcast or in my review.

(I also wished that I DID love the film and that it was was a remake worthy of singing the praises (The Fly, Solaris, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and I’d be singing the praises for it, if that were the case. Alas, not the case here.)

Matt Gamble
Guest

Sean, when Kurt really hates a movie he tends to employ a scorched Earth style of criticism. You’ll get used to it eventually.

Just remember, it’s not you, it’s Halfyard.

Kurt
Guest

I happily stand by that my ‘scorched earth,’ as you put it, is a lot more modulated than your brand of scorchy, Mr. Gamble.

Matt Gamble
Guest

Regardless of intent, I am taking your comment to be satirical, Halfyard.

So there.

Sean Kelly
Guest

I’m seeing the film in about 3 hours, so I will finally be able to enter the debate properly.

Also, today is my 31st birthday and I photoshopped the film’s logo to superimpose my age in the title. 😛

Marina
Guest

I don’t have as much of a hate on for the EVIL DEAD remake as Kurt does (probably because I don’t have the same level of love for the original either) but I agree with pretty much everything. It’s dumb, soulless and not one ounce of scary. I did, to some extent, appreciate the level of polished gore – I kind of like that it looks so sharp and yet so damned ugly – but early on even that got boring. We didn’t say through the entire end credits but I did love the closing credit sequence. That was the best part of the movie.

Sean Kelly
Guest

I just got out of the film and it’s best I give my opinions on an act-by-act basis:
First Act – Meh
Second Act – OK
Third Act – AWESOME!!!

Overall, I enjoyed the film.

Matthew Fabb
Guest

I hear the last bit of the movie felt a lot more closer to the craziness of Evil Dead 2. I personally like the sequel and even more so Army of Darkness’s plenty of comedy horror over the more straight up horror than the original.

I hope to see it this weekend to get my own opinion on the movie.

Sean Kelly
Guest

Two Words: Raining Blood

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