Saturday, April 06, 2013

Evil Dead / ** ½ (R)

Mia: Jane Levy
David: Shiloh Fernandez
Eric: Lou Taylor Pucci
Olivia: Jessica Lucas
Natalie: Elizabeth Blackmore

TriStar Pictures presents a film directed by Fede Alvarez. Written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues. Based on the 1981 film “The Evil Dead” by Sam Raimi. Running time: 91 min. Rated R (for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language).

If there’s one thing for sure that the latest version of “Evil Dead” has to say, it’s that detox is a bitch. In this movie, which appears to be more of a sequel/reboot than a remake, the soon-to-be-dead teenagers have a more serious reason for visiting that sad looking cabin in the woods than the people in Sam Raimi’s 1981 original ultra low budget “The Evil Dead”. Mia is a drug addict trying to kick her habit, so her brother and three friends take her into the woods for a much needed cold turkey detox. The result is a much more serious approach to material which once distinguished itself by not taking itself so seriously.

This new “Evil Dead” movie is made in the tradition of many of today’s remakes/reboots. There are films that meant a great deal to audiences and filmmakers, and Hollywood feels a need to revisit these films with updated versions because its easy to find filmmakers willing to re-envision their influences, the original filmmakers stand to gain financially for work they performed years ago without much financial gain, and most importantly, the audiences are already built in to the material, so a certain amount of ticket sales are guaranteed and less money needs to be spent in advertizing. With the horror genre in particular, budgetary costs are usually less. With the micro budgets that many horror cult classics were made on, many will consider the better modern production values an improvement on the material alone. So it all comes down to money. Such reasoning rarely makes for good filmmaking, however.

“Evil Dead” is skillfully made, but lacks something from its original treatment. What has happened is that the material has been homogenized to look and feel like just about any Dead Teenager movie made in today’s modern market. It returns audiences to the same locations and set pieces of the original film, but not the same mindset. When we meet Mia, she’s even sitting on a rusted out 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, the exact car from the original sitting behind the exact same tiny cabin in the woods. However, these kids aren’t here to party. Rather they’ve gathered to leave those days behind them.

In an unnecessary prologue, we learn that evil things have occurred in this cabin before the kids arrive. This doesn’t really tell us anything we wouldn’t have known just from looking at the sad shack of a place they’ve come to on their unfortunate mission to clean up their friend. We learn that in the game these kids are about to inadvertently enter evil is present and loved ones finds themselves having to kill loved ones in order to end the evil. An ancient looking book is at the heart of these events. We could’ve figured all this out as it unfolded, just as we did in the original, but it’s the standard today that horror filmmakers insist on a pre-story teaser of what’s to come.

The movie does what it does well. Director Fede Alvarez knows how to create genuine shocks and seat squirming gore. Once the film gets past its obligatory Dead Teenager introductory passages of the five characters who each play specific roles and work with and against each other in all the ways they’re supposed to, then it gets down to the nitty gritty, as it were. Alvarez does a good job incorporating the “Evil Dead” signatures into the more serious nature of this film. There is no goofiness to the woods that come alive and attack Mia here. The braches that grab and eventually rape her are quite frightening.

Alvarez’s cabin isn’t the vast maze of rooms and basement that Raimi’s was. Instead, it feels more claustrophobic. The set up of the detox requires the claustrophobic atmosphere. Alvarez continues that feeling once things start going wrong. When a body disappears it seems like more of an impossibility. When it reappears wielding a knife, or a nail gun, or a shotgun, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to escape. And, when a blade slices the skin, it is slow and uncomfortable for the audience. This is one of those films, often referred to as torture porn, where you can’t look away even though you are vocalizing your discomfort with phrases like, “Ooo, oh man! That hurts. Don’t…uhng!”

“Evil Dead” will work perfectly well for the modern horror audience that has been trained to expect what they get. I can’t help being frustrated with it myself. It seems like modern horror directors really don’t have the slightest clue what they’re doing. They do what they’re told, or what they think they’ve learned from other horror films. They take characters that were once teenagers without a care in the world and give them adult problems that they try to deal with responsibly. Or they take what were once very adult characters and turn them into abstinent adolescents, like in the “Twilight” series. In doing so, they completely miss the deeper meanings of these stories. A Dead Teenager movie is supposed to be about the loss of youth. A vampire movie is supposed to be about sexual temptation. With “Evil Dead” in particular, it seems they’ve eliminated all of the elements that made the original series stand out as something special. Without the comedic elements, this is just another horror movie.

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