Starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Phoenix Connolly, Jim McLarty, Sian Davis
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Expectations: I don’t know. High but also low.
As a die-hard fan of the original films:
The 2013 version of Evil Dead is everything I feared it would be. Instead of encapsulating that rebel, low-budget spirit of the original, it feels incredibly mainstream and not the least bit fresh. I suppose that’s to be expected of a mainstream remake of a genre classic, but I had hopes that with Robert Tapert, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell on-board as producers they’d make sure that they did justice to the legacy of Evil Dead.
What makes Evil Dead a hard one for me to write about is that I can see both sides of the argument. Purists think this should never exist (like most remakes), but modern viewers unwilling to venture into low-budget territory have come to this one in droves. I’m firmly in the purist camp, but I do think they got one thing perfect. This Evil Dead isn’t so much a remake of the original as it is a similar situation with entirely new characters and a lot of cherry-picked elements and shots from the Raimi films. This is definitely the way to go to avoid people like myself bitching about how “the new Ash isn’t as good as Bruce Campbell,” and other such unwinnable arguments. So now there’s no Ash at all. Which is exactly how this movie should be. Ash and Bruce Campbell are inseparable.
No matter what changes were made to the characters, the same premise exists as the basis for the mayhem. Five college-age kids come to a cabin in the woods and awaken some ancient, evil bullshit thanks to a book bound in human skin in the basement, the Necronomicon. But this time, the kids have all assembled there to help Mia kick her drug habit, which is a noble cause but it takes up the entire first act of the film and ultimately doesn’t mean anything or pay off at all. I’ll admit to nitpicking a bit, but even if I’d never seen the originals I can’t imagine not noticing how a third of the movie was essentially meaningless. I respect them for trying something different than the old standard “kids going into the woods to fuck” thing, but generally it’s better to have a story that runs through the entire film, no?
In terms of modern horror, though, this is better than a lot of what I’ve seen. I didn’t care too much for it because I inherently don’t care for modern horror, but it does a lot more right than your average mainstream horror film. It’s Rated R and gory, if nothing else. But what that means in today’s film language is that the gore will be incredibly realistic to the point of turning me off completely.
Many horror films of the ’70s and ’80s feature incredibly bloody FX, such as the first two Evil Dead films, and many of these FX look pretty realistic. But even the most realistic of these still looks somewhat fake. The mind — the adult mind, anyway — is never completely fooled, so there was always an element of watching horror to confront our demons and our fears, and to overcome them. Stephen King wrote about this phenomenon in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre. His focus was on the monster movies of the ’50s, but the same principle applies to the entire genre. Horror allows us to deal with extreme fear in manageable ways. But modern horror never feels like it’s working at this level anymore, at least to me. The extreme violence is so realistic that I might as well be attending a deranged anatomy class. It’s tortuous to watch. Evil Dead might not be torture porn in the normal sense of the genre, but it definitely tortures its audience to a certain degree. And I watch horror movies to have fun, something that very few modern horror films are ever concerned with providing.
As “good” as this remake might or might not be, I don’t think anyone could argue that it’s pretty far from being the vibrant, interesting piece of amateur art that Raimi’s original Evil Dead is. That film was created from scratch and it builds a rich world of demonic possession as it moves along. The remake simply takes what it wants from the original and crafts a threadbare story that doesn’t matter around these elements. There’s even a few moments that are style recreations or homages to shots in the original film, which feels cheap, lazy and simply calls attention to the fact that there’s very little style exhibited in the other scenes around these small moments. I don’t know, if I were making my feature film debut with a high-profile film like this, I’d try a little harder.
I should mention that towards the end of the film, it finally seems to break free from the tired shackles of convention and actually forges ahead into exciting, thrilling territory. It’s only maybe 10 minutes of the movie, but those 10 minutes are pretty good. Not wholly redeeming good, but good nonetheless. You have to seriously suspend your disbelief to enjoy them, though, as some RIDICULOUS BULLSHIT happens just prior. The FX, all achieved through practical, traditional means like the good ol’ days, also look incredible. I don’t care for the hyper realism of modern FX, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re incredibly well-realized. You will squirm. And if you don’t, they should check your mental state because it ain’t gonna be pretty when you snap.
Oh, and the music is horrible! Generic mainstream music that tries to guide you towards emotions with the subtlety of an atom bomb to the face. For me, that probably killed this movie’s chances more than anything, but I definitely hate this kind of music more than your average bear. And while I’m listing random thoughts: how many fucking times do we need to see the same goddamn Necronomicon page foreshadowing a later event? They show many of the pages at pertinent times throughout, but there’s one page shown over and over again. And when the time has finally come for this overly foreshadowed event to pass, what do they do? They cut to the goddamn page again — mid-fucking-scene! — in case you aren’t paying attention to the exact scene you’re watching AND you missed the last five times they showed the page. WTF! ADD filmmaking at its
But I also understand that some of my issues are of the “old man shaking his cane” variety, and those who don’t share my affinity for horror films of the past will likely find this Evil Dead to be quite the horror film. And that’s what it really comes down to. If you’re a die-hard Evil Dead fan who never really cared for the modern version of horror, this movie is completely pointless and will most likely just piss you off at how homogenized and mainstream the genre has become. But if you are a fan of modern horror and you always thought Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead was cheesy and “too old,” then you’ve probably already bought the Blu-ray because this is one of the best modern examples of the genre. And really, I don’t think either side is wrong. But is this really the state of the horror film today? That the remake of a genre classic, lacking the heart and the spirit and the artistry of the original, is lauded as the best horror film in recent memory? Ugh.