Friday, April 5, 2013

Review: Evil Dead (2013)

Having reviewed the first three films, it is now time to wrap up Evil Dead Week...

Evil Dead (2013)

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The remake of The Evil Dead isn't a great film, but it is a damn good one. Director Fede Alvarez, rather than trying to copy the carnival-esque atmosphere of Sam Raimi's films, went for a pure horror film here, with graphic violence that dwarfs the entire original trilogy put together in sheer brutality. It does everything that a proper remake ought to, taking what worked about the first film and fixing the parts that brought it down (namely, its amateurish production values, lack of characterization, and poor acting). It has problems of its own that hold it back from greatness, but even so,Evil Dead is a worthy remake of a classic.

Discussion of this film must begin with the violence. While some foreign horror films may top it on this front, this is easily the most violent mainstream American horror film to come out in the last several years, especially following the end of the "torture porn" boom in the last decade. This movie is exceptionally brutal, made all the more convincing by the fact that all of it (outside of the opening sequence) was done with practical effects. They were committed to not using CGI for the stunts that go on here, and the effect is that it makes everything look like, well, flesh and blood rather than a video game. Between the harrowing recreation of the original's infamous vine scene to the Glasgow grins and dismemberments that followed, even I, somebody who's seen a lot of graphic horror movies, had to cringe at more than one point. The reactions of the audience around me only intensified the thrill.

But Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues have also tried to give some depth and character development to the film. While it doesn't quite work all the way through, I have to admit that I was intrigued by the tale of drug detox that underlies the first half of the film. The characters' commitment to getting Mia clean provides a great explanation for why they want to stay in the cabin; if they go home early, then Mia might OD again, and they don't want that. Mia's warnings about monsters in the woods? All just the ravings of a junkie going through withdrawal. It helps that they got a very good actress for Mia in the form of Jane Levy, who is able to convincingly portray a drug addict in the first act, a possessed Deadite in the second, and lastly, a grade-A horror heroine in the third. Her brother David, played by Shiloh Fernandez, is the other half of the brother-sister duo that anchors this film, committed to being there for his sister even when it looks like she can't be helped. Fernandez's performance is a nice twist on Ash from the original, carrying the film through much of its second act. Lastly, Lou Taylor Pucci does well for himself as Eric, the voice of reason telling the rest to get out and burn this mutha to the ground.

Unfortunately, the other two ladies in the cast, Jessica Lucas as Olivia and Elizabeth Blackmore as Natalie, don't get the same kind of characterization, existing mainly to look good before getting utterly messed up and turned into Deadites. It's more forgivable for Olivia, who is the first to die and is given a bit more development as the one who wants to keep Mia in the house, but Natalie's only role in the film is largely to round out the list of victims. When she was on screen and not screaming, the film suffered for it. Her role as David's girlfriend -- and Olivia's role as David's ex-girlfriend -- should've been a bit more developed, given that it was brought up in the introduction.

In addition (spoiler warning), the third act, in its efforts to be different from the original, produces a few moments with some fairly shaky logic to them. In particular, the attempt to shoehorn Mia into the "final girl" archetype could've been handled a lot better; as it was, the circumstances of her sudden return from possession had me waiting to the end for her reveal as a Deadite in disguise. Lastly, while I get where the filmmakers were going by making this a "serious" version of the story, I feel that the lack of the first film's black comedy hurt it a bit. Mia is the only Deadite who is allowed to display any emotion as a Deadite, the rest all behaving pretty much like zombies. One of the greatest moments from the original was where Linda, after being possessed, taunted her boyfriend Ash; it was funny, but the laughs only increased the viewers' discomfort because of the circumstances. A similar scene with Natalie and David could've fleshed out Natalie's character and brought back some of that sick atmosphere. Given that Diablo Cody did rewrites on this film, I'm surprised that that kind of stuff wasn't included.

Score: 4 out of 5

Is it better than the original? No, but you should still check it out whether or not you've seen the original. It is brutal horror of a kind that many thought Hollywood had forgotten how to do, and while it lacks the original's black comedy, it makes up for it by being tense in its own unique ways. Oh, and be sure to stay after the credits.

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