EVIL DEAD Review

When I walked up to the window to purchase my tickets for Fede Alvarez's retelling of Sam Raimi's cult classic Evil Dead the theater employee felt the need to inform me that the film was very violent and graphic and the night before several people requested to switch movies as they couldn't deal with the extreme content of the film. I appreciated the gesture, but this was one of the reasons I was so excited to see this latest kids in the woods horror flick that had such positive buzz floating around it ever since its South by Southwest Festival premiere. The horror genre may be the classification of film I have the most issues with as it is easily the most limited in what types of stories it likes to tell and how it likes to convey them. Whether this be through  a main antagonist with a definitive look, name, and niche as far as killing methods go or the always optional ancient evil forces coming back to haunt a seemingly innocent group of extremely good looking people by this point we usually know pretty early which way things are going. This has been the case since at least the mid-70's, yet it is important to remember the context in which Raimi's film arrived back in 1981. There was no precedent for horror flicks where kids got picked off one by one after so many bad decisions your throat was sore from yelling at the screen. I was never introduced to Raimi's breakout film and its eventual sequels until I watched the first film this past week in preparation for what Alvarez chose to take liberties with. I wasn't disturbed or upset by the fact they were re-making the film as I had no emotional attachment to the original series, but it was clear those works were very special in many peoples hearts and to tackle a re-make like this was treading hollowed ground. All I can say when it comes to this new film is that it certainly does its job of making the audience cringe and it does it well. The film realizes what type of movie it is and what it needs to be to leave a strong impression. It is a disturbing yet slickly made throwback of a scary movie that is both an homage to the film that inspired it and a progressive experiment in where the genre may go from here.

Shiloh Fernandez is accompanied by four of his friends to that dreaded cabin in the woods in Evil Dead.
While the original film introduced the world to Bruce Campbell and his character Ash Williams this new incarnation brings us a more fleshed out cast of characters with less flair for leaving a lasting impression. These are not five seemingly random twenty somethings going on a vacation to the ugliest and most decrepit destination spot of all time, no, the script which Alvarez helped pen with Diablo Cody and Rodo Sayagues gives this group a clear set of reason and justification. Jane Levy plays Mia, a drug addicted junkie who is trying to kick her habits, with the support of her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas). Olivia is a registered nurse and will be on guard to help Mia through this detox while her distant brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) shows up for moral support with his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). It's clear that Mia and David once had a solid relationship and the cabin they venture out to is a source of many good memories, but life has not always been kind. David took off in search of what simply sounds like finding a place for himself in the world only to make Mia feel responsible for filling both of their roles when their mother became deathly ill and David was nowhere to be found. The film enlists these conflicts early and takes advantage of the genre archetypes by turning a few of them on their heads while keeping others in check to not exactly subvert our expectations but live up to what the majority of the horror junkies in the audience want from this experience. Once Eric and David discover a secret room beneath the old cabin that is filled with evidence of witchcraft and fatal rituals Eric breaks the one rule of scary movies and reads from the forbidden book unleashing holy hell upon them, but specifically Mia who is dealt the brunt of the demons wrath.

More than the limited range horror films seem to have to play with in terms of story, it is simply tough to make a movie like this at all anymore without falling into the trap of doing the same things everyone else has done before and at some point in time done quite well. While Evil Dead is not the greatest of horror flicks to come along lately (I still enjoyed last falls Sinister more), the fact it is able to come out as well as it does not even a year after the genre deconstruction that was The Cabin in the Woods is kind of a miracle. I wasn't on that train as much as many film fans I know were, but I understood where they were coming from and I can appreciate that. Some of that films shortcomings in my mind might also be contributed to my lack of love for Joss Whedon, but that is a different article completely. What Cabin in the Woods did was give us a story underneath the standard story while finding sarcastic reasons to include every cliche they could imagine; what Evil Dead does to avoid the fate of hitting these beats one by one is to follow the construct without playing by the individual rules. Yes, there are five young people in a cabin in the middle of the woods and bad stuff is going to happen. That is inevitable seeing as this is a re-make of the film that invented that staple of a storyline, but what happens once they are all inside the cabin truly is some of the more cringe-inducing moments and unflinchingly horrific sites I've seen on the big screen in a long time. This isn't simply torture porn filth like you would find in many installments of the Saw franchise, no, the gruesome acts and sights here actually take place more often than not where the camera isn't looking. Moreso, it becomes the sounds, the darkness, and the surprisingly credible acting that comes from all of the main players that elevate this to something more than being the more pricey, better looking re-make of a cult classic that exists purely for profit.
Mia (Jane Levy) finds herself in a bit of a predicament in the new Evil Dead.
While there were certainly times throughout the film where I found it hard to look at the screen I was never truly scared by the film. This brings up the question I was asking myself over and over again as it continued to play, "Whens it going to pick up?" For, as the film introduces us to the characters and establishes their conflicts as well as natures it begins to feel like a slow burn (especially for an hour and a a half film). Yet, as much as I appreciated the character insight and development it doesn't impact the final sensation we feel when the credits begin to roll. What does impact your ruminating reaction to the movie is how much it was able to get under your skin and your own determination of if it really did frighten you. Most of the time my reaction to these questions are a simple, "no" but there are exceptions where I drive home thinking about what I just watched and am even somewhat hesitant to turn the lights off when I arrive. Those are the feelings you may not enjoy, but what you almost need to feel when leaving a horror movie to consider it successful. There are plenty of reasons to be scared in this world, but there is nothing better than feeling like you are going through an ordeal where you have a front row seat while reaping none of the repercussions. Evil Dead is not that kind of scary movie though, and I can give it that. It is an over-the-top gore fest meant to elicit a reaction of turning ones head away from the sickness on screen. It is meant to be fun, as tongue in cheek as it's able to be while maintaining a dark and ominous tone that permits us to try and take it as seriously as possible. This is somewhat hard to do when you have trees raping women and, considering the source material, several references that will have fanboys of the original smiling more often than shrieking. The movie is billing itself as "the most terrifying film you will ever experience," which doesn't ring true for me, but it was the most fun I've had in a horror movie in a long time, and that certainly means something. Whether that indicates good for the movie and bad for me or vice versa is up for debate, but I'll look at it as a compliment to the what the film induces.