Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: Evil Dead

It’s been a long, long time since a movie created as much pre-release speculation within the horror community as the Evil Dead remake.  Probably since House of 1000 Corpses.  Sure it’s only a remake of one of the most beloved horror flicks of the modern era, but none of the other remakes have had this kind of hype.  We all collectively groaned when it was announced.  We all caught our breath when the trailer actually looked pretty kick ass.  Then opinions diverged when stories about heavy reliance on practical effects, NC-17 ratings, Diabl-oh-for f**k’s-sake-not-that-Juno-bitch Cody, and audience reactions at SXSW started being bandied about.  One camp said that this was going to be an act of heresy and a crime against the genre.  A large contingent kept the faith that this movie was going to blow everybody away.  Then there were those like me who went in with neutral expectations.  So, how was it?  Among the group of Netherspawn I saw it with, the opinion was unanimous… groovy.
Synopsis: Are you kidding me?  It’s Evil f’n Dead!  It’s “spam in a cabin”as Joe Bob would say.  If you don’t know the basic story for this one, you are hereby ordered to report to Remedial Horror 101.
When you talk about remakes, the “is it better than the original” question always comes up.  Personally, I find that to be a fairly useless argument.  They’re not in competition.  But while I try to take remakes on their own merit and review them as their own entity, let’s face it, a comparison to the original is impossible not to make.  At their best, remakes respectfully take the basic premise of the original work and present it in the context of the current tastes and sensibilities of the movie going audience.  You know, like NOTLD ’90.  At their worst, they try to rewrite everything that was good about the original and shit on a classic film’s legacy.  That NOES debacle is a good example.  Evil Dead is the former.  If the original film had never come out, and that same story was being told for the first time today, this is exactly what we’d get.  It has enough of the spirit of the original to make it familiar, but enough of its own identity to make it fresh.  It also has just enough callbacks (ranging from brilliant to hamfisted) to Raimi’s classic to satisfy the fans.
One thing I liked was the addition of a little more backstory on the relationship between the five young people in the cabin.  One of the big plot holes in a lot of horror flicks is the whole “why didn’t they get the hell out of dodge at the first sign of weirdness” question.  That issue is dealt with in a clever way that makes complete sense.
Another change that I think was a smart move was not having Ash as a character.  Ok, ok.  I know Ash IS Evil Dead.  Hear me out though.  Let’s be honest for a second.  If they had an Ash in this flick, it would have gone over like a fart in church no matter who they cast.  No one would have accepted anyone in that role.  Bruce Campbell’s iconic performance would have been impossible to duplicate, so I think not even trying was the smartest thing the filmmakers could have done.  Instead, the basic components and trademarks of the Ash character were dispersed among the other characters.
Speaking of which, those characters are portrayed by a capable but uneven cast.  The standout is relative newcomer Jane Levy as Mia.  She killed it.   It’s not a spoiler to tell you that she becomes possessed at one point since it’s in the trailer.  She’s very good as a normal human, but she’s phenomenal as a deadite.  Shiloh Fernandez, who you might remember from Deadgirl, plays her brother and is, um…less impressive.  He tries to do a little Bruce style mugging, and it just doesn’t play out well.  He’s not bad per se, he just seems like he can’t decide whether he wants to play the role as cool or emotional.  He ends up settling on neither.  Lou Taylor Pucci, who you most likely don’t remember from an underrated flick called Carriers, is the strongest male in the cast.    He’s almost as good as Levy actually.  Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore round out the cannon fodder.  They’re good enough when they’re normal humans, but they really come into their own when the spirits and viscera start to fly.
The biggest difference between the remake and the original is the nature of the  deadites.  In the original, the deadites are identified as demons, but they are more Bava-style monster demon than Friedkin-style satanic demon.  In the remake, they’re played a little more explicitly, particularly Mia.  She still maintains the taunting spirit of the deadites in the original, but a bit more Regan-esque.  A little more “your mother sucks cocks in hell” than “we’re gonna get you, time to go to sleep.”  It’s an interesting new twist on the formula, and I thought it definitely added a welcome new element to the proceedings.
The main thing that sets this movie apart, and what I’m sure most people will be raving about, is the gore.  In an age of neutered horror, Evil Dead doesn’t skimp on the violence.  This is the goriest flick I’ve seen in a theater since Hatchet 2, and the goriest flick to get a major theater release since…I don’t even know.  Suffice it to say that Evil Dead is a balls to the wall gorefest.  It even satisfied my bloodlust.  Hell, it even got a cringe from me.  Yes, I cringed.  The last time that happened in a theater was the needle pit scene in Saw 2.  It does a good job of walking the same fine line between playing it straight and going for splatstick that the original did.  While I officially call their “no CGI” claim into question (actually, I’m calling bullshit), 99% of the effects are practical and look fantastic.  I could keep gushing about the bloody effects (see what I did there?), but I don’t want to get into specifics.  It’s best not to know what’s coming.  If you are a gorehound like me, then the grue alone makes this an absolute must see. 
It’s definitely not a perfect flick though.  It has a new school cinematography aesthetic, especially the third person shaky cam, which you all know doesn’t sit well with me.  I’m not talking about the Sam Raimi trademark traveling shots either, although those are there. The camera is way too wobbly when there is absolutely no call for it, and it only gets shakier and more spastically edited as the action gets more intense.  Unlike in its trembly-handed bretheren, however, the camera is occasionally allowed to linger on a particular gag long enough to make your date queasy.  While some of the jump scares are deftly handled, many of them are way too telegraphed.
At about the three quarter mark, something so mind numbingly stupid happens that it nearly turned me against the movie instantly.  I mean, this was dumb as hell.  I’m gonna go ahead and blame that idea on Diablo Cody.  Only she could come up with something so mind numbingly lame.  It became a major plot point too!  There are about 5 minutes where you’ll facepalm repeatedly and think “are they really going in this direction?”  You’ll know it’s coming when you see the “MacGuyver” montage.  That’s all I’ll give away.  Don’t worry though, after this detour into “are you f**king kidding me?” territory, the flick kicks into overdrive and rides a river of red all the way to the finale.
What really put a black eye on the flick is the score.  My god was it bad.  There were a couple of times where the overdramatic music almost worked.  Almost.  Most of the time it felt like Danny Elfman trying to be scary.  It just sounded goofy as hell and distracted me from the movie.  Then they kept repeating this siren-like noise that didn’t fit into the scene at all.  With the original providing such a good template for sound design, how did it go so horribly wrong here?
Random Thought #1: Make sure you stay through the credits.  There is a stinger.  You will like it.  I guarantee.
Random Thought #2: Yes, the Oldsmobile managed to make its obligatory cameo.
Random Thought #3: SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT!  At one point a nail gun comes into play.  I had the same problem here that I always do with nail guns in movies; where in the green hell is the damn air compressor?  I know there are self contained ones available, but this wasn’t one of those.  That always drives me crazy.  Attention to detail people!
There are probably a lot of people who won’t like this movie.  The majority of them will point to how different it is than the original as the source of their ire.  A lot of them probably have their mind made up before ever seeing it too.  Yes, this is Evil Dead for a different age.  I prefer the filmmaking style of the original too.  But if you can get past the fact that it’s a remake of one of your favorite movies, what you’ll find is an all out splatterfest that manages to deliver some good scares, create a few genuinely tense moments, and be a lot of fun.  Did I mention the gore?  While the original arguably may have had more heart, you can’t deny that the remake has guts.  It manages to be its own cinematic experience, while maintaining enough of the classic spirit we all love that I feel it’s a worthy companion piece.  Plus, it’s bloody as hell.  Not sure if I brought that up or not.  8 Swallowed Souls out of 10.  Nathan says check it out.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this review. It made me feel a lot better about wanting to see it.

-your little bro

Anonymous said...

Knowing SOC like I do. If he likes this movie it's going to be awesome. He is a tough critic. An even tougher critic on remakes. And an even tougher critic on a remake of Evil Dead. This must be a definite see. Shaw

Giovanni Deldio said...

I'm gonna see this the wk after WM, more than likely, but your awesome review has me more pumped than ever!

Joel Harley said...

I loved this movie.
Nice review.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for the awesome review man, I will be seeing it on the 11th (it arrives a whole week late where I live!) but I'm glad to see Im gonna have a blast! And good to hear that it is not a neutered horror film, I am personally getting tired of those.

Enigma05 said...

shes not even ugly in this evil dead franchise lol, looks like someone is jealous cause they never got someone as hot as that

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