Friday, April 5, 2013

EVIL DEAD (2013)

Fede Alvarez’s 2013 Evil Dead is probably closest to Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn Of The Dead remake in style and execution. Both films take a cherished low-budget classic and, while sticking fairly close to the setups of their predecessors, they cycle in new characters and ramp up the action/blood/intensity for a faster, meanier, gorier approach. In our current heyday of PG-13 horror and toothless, unimaginative spook-em-ups, the commitment these filmmakers show to bloody mayhem is welcome, but the new model Evil Dead, like Snyder’s Dawn before it, still only manages to be occasionally diverting, but ultimately disposable. In both cases, there’s no substitute for the cheapo charm of the original. Evil Dead 2013 (which was produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell) starts off with an intriguing but confusing prologue—intriguing, because it hints at a broader mythology for this version of the story, but confusing because it never bothers to deliver on it. We see the fiery conclusion of one girl’s demonic possession, taking place in the basement of the series’ now-familiar cabin in the woods. Then, some time later, a group of five friends arrive at the cabin—not for a weekend of hard partying in the usual horror-film tradition, but so that drug-addicted Mia (Jane Levy) can dry out in the company of her concerned pals. The gang decides that, no matter what she says or does, Mia will not be allowed to leave the woods until the weekend is over and she’s gone completely cold turkey. This promising angle, which ensures that the kids actually have a good reason to stay in the cabin when things get weird, is ditched all too quickly since Mia is the first to fall under the spell of what lurks within the woods (an evil unleashed when one of the gang finds a creepy book bound up in barb wire and, of course, proceeds to read from it). At first, Mia’s increasingly crazed behaviour is dismissed as symptoms of drug withdrawal, but it isn’t long before the demonic infection spreads to the others, leading to an outbreak of self-mutilation, trash-talking, and all manner of goo and glop spewing out of character’s faces. You have to admire how the new Evil Dead gleefully goes for the gross-out (largely achieved through practical effects rather than CGI, always a plus. Apparently several cuts were made to ensure an R rating, but even so, this has got to be the bloodiest horror flick to get a wide release in quite some time. That being said, beyond the troubled family history between Mia and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), the characters are so thinly drawn that it’s hard to get emotionally involved when they all start cutting each other into bloody chunks. I kept forgetting that one character, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), was even in the movie. I can’t imagine that her character had much description in the screenplay beyond “blonde hair/David’s girlfriend”, if her total lack of personality traits of any kind is any indication. The standout in the cast, by way of default, is Lou Taylor Pucci’s Eric, if only because hipster fashion has come around again to the point that his now-weirdly-contemporary plaid shirt, long hair, and Chief Brody-sized eyeglasses make him look like…the victim in an early 1980s horror movie, appropriately enough. But beyond the rehab angle and the demonic, candle-headed boss beast in the demonic tome (who, sadly, never appears beyond the blood-printed page), Evil Dead doesn’t bring enough new to the table. The evil spirits are given a face this time, in the form of the ghoulish girl from the prologue, but this has the weird effect of making the threat seem smaller rather than bigger (if you can defeat the evil by chopping it into pieces with a chainsaw, it’s really not all that insurmountable, is it?). One can only assume that the mythology teased out by screenwriters Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, and Diablo Cody is dropped in to tantalize viewers back for an inevitable sequel, which is exactly the kind of breadcrumb-dropping storytelling cheat that made Prometheus such a stinker last year. Far too much of genre filmmaking these days is about luring viewers in with the promise of something new, and then, in the wake of a pile of unanswered questions, winkingly suggesting that you hang in there for Part II. Commendable for its carnage, but forgettable due to its flimsiness, Evil Dead 2013 feels regrettably incomplete and, as such, as unnecessary as most other horror remakes. Give me Sam Raimi chasing Bruce Campbell around the forest with a camera any day of the week.

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