– Summary –
Director : Fede Alvarez
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Phoenix Connolly, Jim McLarty.
Approx Running Time : 92 Minutes
Synopsis: A group of friends meet at a deserted cabin in the woods to conduct an intervention on the drug-addicted Mia. Only, they somehow manage to unlock the gates of hell and unleash a demon hell-bent on their eternal damnation.
What we think : Gory, visceral horror film lacks genuine heart, but does a lot of things right in its attempt to scare the bejeebus out of you. The thrills comes thick and fast once the infamous Book of The Dead is pulled out, with demonic possession, bodily dismemberment, torture, harrowing pseudo-religious iconography and a bunch of in-jokes the order of the day. It’s not a clever film, as much as these kinds of movies want to be, but it is thrillingly entertaining in a perverse, bloodthirsty, gratuitously overlong, Cabin In The Woods-kinda way.
Shouldn’t that be Evil Un-dead?
The fourth film in the Sam Raimi directed/produced franchise (although this installment is helmed by Fede Alvarez), Evil Dead seeks to somehow reboot the series (don’t all modern films try to reboot the franchise?) with a modern take on the gore, the fun and the sheer horror of what was a seminal trilogy back in the 80’s. From the original low budget classic, to the more humor-laced sequels, the Evil Dead franchise has remained a cult and fan favorite ever since Bruce Campbell’s Ash took hold of that chainsaw, strapped it to his arm, and said “Groovy”. In light of the spate of franchise rebootings over the last decade or so (some more accomplished than others, although almost none managing to break the mold of the classic originals they reference) it only seemed a matter of time before Evil Dead swung about and grabbed hold of the young, impressionable horror audience of today. Fede Alvarez, together with Rodo Sayagues, went back to the original film to determine what worked, what didn’t, and how they could bring their own unique vision to the franchise. They created a script and setting that is as cliched as they come – at least, for those of us who’ve seen The Cabin In The Woods, which was itself a callout to the original Evil Dead in many ways – but still managed to make an unsettling, spooky, blood-drenched film that elicits more than a few frights, plenty of gore, and an undercurrent of impending doom upon all who inhabit the film. While the comparisons between the 2013 version and the original film are always going to hang about, I’ve decided to go into this film as if the previous three do not exist, and judge it on its own merits. I think that’s fair – no film really wants to be burdened with the weight of impossible-to-bear expectations like that. So is Evil Dead a good quality horror film? Is it worth the Evil Dead moniker, or is it yet another stillborn horror reboot that should sink beneath the ground like a corpse, never to be remembered?
A group of friends meet at an old cabin, deep in the woods, to assist one of their own recover from a deadly drug addiction. Mia (Jane Levy) has tried to break free of her addiction before, and failed, leading her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) to bring her to a place she will not have any outside influence from. Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) also arrives, along with his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) to assist, even though his relationship with Mia is estranged since the death of their mother years prior. As they prepare to help Mia break her drug addiction, a rancid smell leads them to the cabin’s basement (another nod to Cabin In The Woods) where they discover a mysterious book, which seems to contain spells or religious iconography. Eric, a teacher, reads a passage from the book and unbeknownst to everyone, unleashes a demon from Hell, a demon with possesses Mia and sends the group in paroxysms of fear. One by one, the group are all either killed, or taken over by the demon, who is seeking to ensnare all five souls in order to unleash the Abomination from the Earth. David, along with Eric, must try and save Mia’s soul before the demon can complete its gruesome work.
Evil Dead is a bloody good film. It’s not perfect, but it’s entertaining. If you like your blood, your gore and your bodily dismemberment, then Evil Dead is the film for you. The premise is typically Horror Film 101: a group of people isolated from the world must overcome a powerful demonic force that threatens to kill them all. Typically, some natural impediment to escape is involved (here, it’s flooding rains), and technology never works (actually, at no point does anyone in this film try and use a mobile phone device to call for help, which is refreshing!), leaving the grunt work of stopping said demonic force to sheer human resilience. Evil Dead accomplishes all of this with ease. For that, I applaud Alvarez and his team for remaining true to good Horror tropes, as cliched as they are. They are used so often, because they work so often. Where other films might seem to make a post-modern reference to the stupidity of folks in the horror genre, and try to subvert the very cliche on which they base their own movie, Evil Dead doesn’t even bother with that. It uses the tropes invented by Raimi and amps them up to 11.
The script is simplistic and restrained; the fact that it had to be doctored by Diablo Cody to make it sound more “USA” than the one Alvarez and Sayagues had originally written probably helped the fact that it kept the character and plotting as raw as possible. No, this isn’t Shakespeare, nor does Alvarez every try to make it so; Evil Dead knows what it is, and goes about it with a stylish elegance that undercuts the bloody, gory visuals. The characters have limited development, which is frustrating at times, and yet par for the course on these kinds of movies. Mia and David’s fractured relationship is hinted at throughout the opening act, paving the way for him to scarper when the going gets tough (Mia believed he ran away from his family responsibility when their mother was dying, so it stands to reason he’ll do the same when she hits the skids), but the emotional through-line of this arc is never quite fully explored by the film – even at the very end, with a reconciliation of sorts, there’s a lack of weight behind it all that fails to bring the audience any true empathy. Eric, the hippie-looking school teacher (wait, is this film set in the 70’s?) seems the most counter-intuitive one of the lot, and it’s he who both kicks off the troubles and goes some way to bringing them to a close. His arc exists purely to provide exposition to the audience, most of whom will be nodding away as he reads the Horror Film 101 handbook to camera as he “uncovers” the truth behind the book of the dead. Secondary characters like Olivia and Natalie, who are in the film to bulk out the cast roster with potential demon-possessed avatars, hardly exist beyond perfunctory “I’m the qualified nurse” and “I’m the dragged-along girlfriend” routines, although admittedly Jessica Lucas brings more to Olivia than the script might otherwise have suggested. Elizabeth Blackmore’s Natalie barely says two words until about three quarters into the film.
Rambling about a lack of character depth might seem a little unproductive for a film about demonic possession, but if The Exorcist proved anything, it’s that with just the right amount of it, the film can be elevated above simple slasher/hacker cliche. Evil Dead’s primary focus appears to have been on just how gruesome and bloody the film can get away with being. Indeed, the modern torture-porn aspects of Evil Dead will have even some hardcore genre fans wincing. Ever wondered what it might be like to have a syringe embedded in your face, right below your eyeball? You’ll experience that in Evil Dead. Limbs are rended from the body, weapons of choice include chainsaws, crowbars and nail-guns (why would an abandoned cabin have an advanced piece of technology like a nail gun just lying about?), and there’s enough blood in this thing to make True Blood look like a paper cut. If you’re at all squeamish, Evil Dead probably isn’t for you. Some of the kills and maiming are relatively ingenious and stylish (a crowbar through the hand in particular stood out for me) and the good thing is Alvarez never seems to relish it. Instead of gratuitously fornicating with the camera over some horrific injury or attack, the editing and camera (more often than not) try and merely infer said injury or attack. Sure, there are some horrendous elements of gore throughout the majority of the movie, but it never felt like Alvarez was going all pornographic with his approach to it. It’s there, it’s brutal, but it’s fast and furious. The camera does not linger for long.
Nor can it: Evil Dead’s pacing is a brisk 90 minutes, and yet I felt the film did tend to drag on a little in the third act. By the time everyone’s been hacked to pieces or possessed or whatever, the film still has a good forty minutes to go, leaving the narrative to tread back over some old ground in order to build to its grim, gripping climax. The constant screaming, demonic babbling and drenching of blood began to get a little tiresome at times, as if Alvarez and Co just kept coming up with more random horror shit to do to these people before we get to the end game. After all, there’s only so much bodily mutilation and deep-voiced “come down here so I can suck your c@ck big boy” one can handle in an hour and a half. By the time the heavens opened on the final act, and the rain became red blood, it became painfully obvious that there was still a good half an hour or so to go. Indeed, that was the case.
At the point at which both the audience and the characters on-screen might be screaming “enough!”, Alvarez ratchets up the finale with his reveal of the Big Bad Guy at the end. It’s one of those thrilling Hero-Backed-Into-A-Corner-Must-Make-A-Stand kinda endings, the kind that works so well to make you yell “hell yeah!” at the screen, and to Alvarez’s credit he salvages the potential disaster at the end of the film into something of a major set-piece. Admittedly, the blood and gore had worn thin by this stage for me (it might not for you) and the impact was diluted by the white-noise of pseudo-babble exposition previously, but Alvarez gives us a Bad Guy takedown we won’t soon forget. At least we know it’ll turn up in the next Scary Movie, if that means anything to y’all. Evil Dead’s blood soaked mantra of bigger, bigger, biggest, never quite works in the end, but in saying that it’s still an effective, showstopping finale that had me gripping my chair arms tightly.
Evil Dead is a horror film in its purest form. It soaks up the cliches, revels in the darkness and near-parody of other films of its ilk, and goes for broke almost all the time. Touted as “the scariest film you will ever experience “, which I think was a similar tagline used by the Paranormal Activity people, Evil Dead doesn’t quite live up to that promise, although it does come exceptionally close. With a Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead-level of red corn-syrup lathered across this film’s visual palette, and an Up To 11 dialing of the chills and bloody scenes of gore, Evil Dead is a return to R-rated horror that will leave many fans excited for the future of the genre. At the very least, the film contains one of the best Death By Chainsaw moments ever committed to film; it would likely have old Leatherface standing there wondering why he never got kills like that. Evil Dead is exciting, frightening and a whole shot of fun.