Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Evil Dead ★½

Blood, Guts, Dismemberment And Not Much Else

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Just when you thought you'd seen the most gruesome horror movie ever made, a movie like Evil Dead comes along to make the previous movies look tame by comparison. Going for a much more serious approach, this remake of the 1981 classic brings a new group of ill-fated characters into the mix and wastes no time coming up with inventive ways to torture them.

The film's tone is established in the prologue, which shows what can happen when someone is stupid enough to read from the Necronomicon, everyone's favorite evil book, and the necessary immolation that can occur as a result. After the events, we jump forward in time (it's never specified how long) and meet the unlucky group of friends who have retreated to a cabin in the woods to help Mia (Jane Levy) go cold turkey from her drug addiction. We learn some of her backstory from her interactions with her truly idiotic brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), who apparently left Mia when she was just a child to live with her mentally unstable mother, which caused her to turn to drugs in the first place. Not long after arriving does the group stumble upon the remnants of what they assume to be witchcraft (though the audience knows better from the prologue) in the cellar underneath the cabin, thereby discovering the Necronomicon and unleashing hell. Literally.

The presence that materializes manages to possess Mia, leading everyone in the group - who include two supposedly educated people, a teacher, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and a nurse, Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and a bimbo, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) - to believe that what Mia is experiencing is just extreme withdrawal. Keep in mind that at one point Mia gives herself third-degree facial burns with a boiling-hot shower, and sadly, that is not even the worst of it. What follows is an elaborate assortment of graphic mutilations all designed to see how much the filmmakers can get away with under the R rating. It's a lot.

If there's one thing I can say about all of the violence in the film (and really, you can only embrace it or reject it, but if you're willingly seeing a movie like this, are you really going to reject it?) it's that the makeup and effects are top notch for a horror film like this. It's extreme, yes, but very believable and (I hate to say it) rich with color. It's one of those movies where the production value is so good that you can feel every bit of pain that these characters endure, which at times is unbearable.

This version of Evil Dead is more concerned with effects than it is to story and character, something that the original franchise had in spades. Mia is supposed to be our replacement for Ash (Bruce Campbell) and I like that the director, Fede Alvarez, wanted a female lead but we barely get to know her. She's angry and depressed for the first fifteen minutes of the film and then possessed for the rest of it. She's not really heroic, or sympathetic, but rather a vessel for Alvarez to showcase his twisted love of gore. I'm not saying I expected Mia to be the female Ash but her character could have been much more developed. Ash was someone we sympathized with; someone whom we did not want to be tortured. While I didn't wish any harm to Mia, I certainly didn't get the sense that Alvarez cared what happened to her as much as director Sam Raimi cared about Ash in the originals.

It's sad, really, as Ms. Levy is a very talented actress (most, like myself, probably know her best as Tessa on ABC's Suburgatory) who is underused here. The rest of the actors have even less to do, but none are less convincing than Mr. Fernandez, who, as David, could not be more of a dolt. In scenes that are actually supposed to be serious, the audience at my screening was laughing because of how inept David was. The fact that he and every other character are not at all memorable except by the ways in which they die furthers my point that there are no characters in this film - only meat puppets. The only part of me that did not mind that approach was when these puppets were used to create visual motifs from the original Evil Dead. They occur several times throughout the movie and I found myself smiling each time, but what can I say? I'm nostalgic.

The only comfort I have after watching this movie is knowing that it only exists to reignite interest in the franchise for the inevitable Evil Dead 4/Army of Darkness 2. I'd wait for that movie. I'd also stay after the credits of this movie for a groovy cameo that could make you forget the horror you just saw.

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