Friday, January 31, 2014

Movie Review: Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013) directed by Fede Alvarez

Here's another film I meant to see last summer, though unlike Pacific Rim, World War Z and Much Ado About Nothing, I debated long and hard about whether I wanted to see this one or not. Too long, thus I missed it in the theatres here.

It used to be in Hollywood, aspiring film makers could break into the scene by making a low-budget noir thriller (see Blood Simple) or horror film (see Night of the Living Dead).  Sam Raimi and his friends got into the business by making The Evil Dead, a low-budget horror movie famous (or infamous) for pushing the boundaries. The movie is pretty raw. The story is fairly basic--five 18-to-25 year-olds go to a cabin in the woods where they plan to have a lot of fun but unleash a demon who starts possessing and killing them one by one. The special effects were the best they could do on a low budget and work for the most part. The violence and gore and scares are so extreme that they sometimes become comic. Bruce Campbell's over the top performance as Ash begins his amazing career. The movie became a cult hit and was also banned in Britain during the video nasties scare of the 1980s.

Fast forward 30 years. A high-budget (comparatively speaking) remake is made with the backing of the original film's producers. The story is mostly the same, except that the five young people come to the cabin to help one of them kick her drug addiction (which helps explain why they don't run away immediately when she tells them about the crazy evil things happening to her). The special effects are top-notch, to the fault of being too realistic. The violence and gore and scares are extreme but don't cross the line into comedy. Jane Levy's solid performance as going-cold-turkey Mia carries the viewer through the excruciating horror. The movie, while not a big hit, performed well enough at the box office to get a sequel greenlit.

This movie has a lot of visual and audio references to the first film (and its sequels), which is to be expected, but has nothing iconic of its own to offer. I liked the set-up which makes their reluctance to leave more plausible, though both this film and the earlier one show that escape is impossible regardless of the characters' decisions. So the set up is a welcome but not necessary addition. The change in tone, losing the humor and the over-the-top rawness, is a big problem. Without the humor to buoy up the viewer, the gore gets too grim and unbearable. The realistic depiction of the gore doesn't help. When Bruce Campbell cuts his evil hand off in Evil Dead II, the filmmakers play up the ridiculousness of what's happening (at the end the hand goes scurrying away like Thing from The Addams Family). A similar scene in this film has a woman (not Mia) chopping most of her arm off with an electric kitchen knife, but it's just an unpleasantly realistic-looking experience--gore for its own sake, which is repulsive in every possible sense. Mia's plight is pitiable but truly unpleasant. Perhaps there's heroism in her survival to the end but watching the movie is more like a forced march than a triumphant arrival. The film has almost nothing to offer but a lot of unpleasantness.

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