Shiloh Fernandez;Lou Taylor Pucci;Jessica Lucas;Jane Levy

The cast is mostly blah.

There is an ironic amount of over-praising being bestowed upon Evil Dead, a remake that I think is actually the appropriate sort. The praise is being generated over the movie’s apparently terrifying effect on audiences. I am here to tell you that Evil Dead is not scary. It’s gory, yes, and some scenes are a bit unsettling, but it’s not worth the youtube reaction videos. The irony comes from two places. First, there’s that The Cabin in the Woods came out less than two years ago. That movie is the last time you saw the familiar “bunch of kids go to a cabin, hilarity ensues” formula. That movie used the formula as a vehicle to eviscerate the over-reliance on the formula in the horror genre. That movie suggested, with supreme wit, that horror needs to get more creative and/or more convicted with its tropes and subtext. Evil Dead is like if someone shrugged and said “so what?” and went right ahead not only making a remake of an influential horror classic (that has been riffed on and copied continuously, right up til The Cabin the Woods did it to make its point) as if no call to better horror had ever taken place or taken off. The second piece of irony is that there are definitely praiseworthy elements in Evil Dead, just not the stuff it is generally being praised for.

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Look at this shot. Look at it.

Evil Dead is a gorgeous-looking movie. Fede Alvarez and his team worked some significant magic and wrought the prettiest horror film since Antichrist. Some of the shots in this are simply gorgeous and almost feel out of place. Alvarez also shows a clever sense of how to refer back to Sam Raimi’s original film with zippy camera moves and close-ups that feel like a hip version of the cheesy gimmicks that populated Raimi’s earlier films (and show up again in Drag Me to Hell). None of Alvarez’s “Raimi Shots” feel cheesy at all and, like the rest of the production, they tend to help this remake feel more comfortable and respectful than most do.

That said, the acting and dialogue are incredibly tedious. This may be intentional given that bad performances are a horror staple, all the better to have the audience looking forward to the gruesome demise of its heroes. Evil Dead pretends that The Cabin in the Woods never happened, though, so it depends entirely on the ritualistic cliches of the horror sacrifices, the scary basement, and the idiot heroes who can’t admit that something supernatural and bad is happening til almost the end, etc. The usual character archetypes are also present: hunky jock, nerdy guy, virginal sweet girl, and wild thang. The wild thang in this case is actually also a junkie, her intervention being the reason everyone is there. The nerd archetype is actually split into two characters making a total of five. The junkie/intervention angle is interesting but nothing really comes of it. It only exists as a device to justify some of the credulity (still stretching it a lot for audiences, I think) of her friends as she gets possessed and starts puking Alphaghetti and so on.

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Yes, I too look at this image and think “bad withdrawals”.

The movie’s commitment to convention isn’t so bad in itself. I definitely think the specter of Cabin haunts this thing but there’s still something to be said for taking classic bricks and putting together a nice house with them. To the extent that it does this, Evil Dead is mostly a success. It certainly isn’t a bad horror movie, nor even an unworthy remake. It is no The Nightmare on Elm Street. However, it’s not quite The Hills Have Eyes either. There’s just no meat to chew on, which seems like a pun given all the splatter that is there. I mean, Evil Dead may be the definition of shallow. It looks great, moves fast, but signifies nothing.

Take for example the reversal that happens very late in the film. For most of the running time, we watch as David (Shiloh Fernandez) is trying to help Mia (Jane Levy). We learn a bit about them through bewilderingly dull exposition. Mia is a bad seed and in case we don’t know from what the other people say, we see her not only smoking but writing poetry or something on the hood of wrecked car (see the beautiful shot I used for a caption shot above). David wasn’t around for Mia and their sick, dying mother. He’s a “big city boy” now. His other friends also stayed behind, looking after each other and Mia while David went off for the job and the meek girlfriend. He even introduces her as “my girl”. She seriously doesn’t utter a word for half the movie.

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Admittedly, David’s “girl” (Elizabeth Blackmore) does get one of the most unsettling scenes in the movie.

David is so committed to Mia’s well-being now that he refuses to believe she’s not just having a bad trip or something. Even as her ailment spreads to every woman in the movie (probably something to this), David still hangs in there. Even when he’s the only one left that she hasn’t changed or killed, he still hangs in there. It’s only after he successfully revives her and breaks the possession that we see he isn’t the new Ash but just a fake-out for the one limp attempt this movie makes at a social-context update. The curing and reviving of Mia is such a ludicrous thing that you sit there sure she’s just faking and is going to try and kill him any moment, dragging out the fateful choice of having to kill one’s own sister for self-preservation. You simply can’t believe that there’s going to be a happy ending. To its credit, the movie doesn’t want to give you one. That said, it doesn’t at all try to convince you Mia is still possessed either. Still, David dies and Mia turns out to be the last chump standing, left alone to face off against the “Abomination” that all these deaths were supposed to free as part of some nutty ritual. Mia being the heroine, all of a sudden, is not any more earned than any of the false tragedy that most horror movies try to derive from their victims. Thankfully, the only unbelievable emotional arc the movie tries to get us to accept is the stuff between David and Mia. Even David’s friend, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) doesn’t get to have much of an emotional arc with him even though he is definitely in love with him.

Eric actually brings all this demon shit on and the movie thoroughly, sickeningly punishes him for it. Pucci becomes a walking talking canvas for all the frightful ways the movie’s four (!!!) writers could conjure to inflict pain and misery. If watching the human body get tortured beyond recognition is your thing, Evil Dead wants to take you aside and show you its stamp collection.

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Shouldn’t have opened the book, hippy.

The Necronomicon features heavily in the movie and is actually pretty cool and scary. Scrawled onto its presumably Aramaic pages are jaggy warnings and clues in stark red ink. Of course, Eric idiotically ignores them and says a random collection of syllables which bring on some specific demon that is never really identified. It likes possessing women though, that’s for sure. Eventually, we learn that if five people get killed then an ancient repressed evil will awaken. See what I was saying about The Cabin in the Woods? Well, Evil Dead isn’t copying from it or anything. Remember, what it’s really doing is just flat out ignoring it.

This is evident especially by that the Abomination is ridiculously not scary. It just looks like Mia and crawls around hissing and such. Mia gets hurt and clobbered more by her own panic and ineptitude than by the creature being any more dangerous than any of her possessed friends had been. For that the movie is ostensibly about avoiding waking this thing up, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Again, Cabin sort of stole the thunder here as I’m not sure what exactly is supposed to top a giant hand smacking the world upside its head.

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For all my contextual griping, this sequence actually plays well. The blood rain is cool.

Mia being the real heroine, complete with lopped off hand, is supposed to be some kind of twist and appeal to the anti-formula. “This time, Ash is a woman!” the movie brags, wanting us to congratulate it for being so clever and progressive and changing things up. It just doesn’t work because the whole movie, Mia is either a junkie moaning around like a cat in the worst heat, or she’s a low rent version of Regan MacNeil. Even the laughable “obscene” shrieks recall The Exorcist and not in a self-flattering way. This is the one place where “hip” reallocation of Raimi’s trademarks fails the movie. Stuff like “I will eat your soul!” has to be delivered with less camp unless you’re going for camp. Likewise, the half-hearted attempts at shocking today’s audience with references to demonic oral sex fall as flat as Drag Me to Hell‘s box office take.

Mia just doesn’t register as a horror heroine. Most of them go through a ringer of terror, violence, and sometimes grievous physical harm. Mia does this but she’s the antagonist the whole time. We’re supposed to sympathize with her because she’s a repentant junkie who misses her brother. As good as she is at playing a demon-twat, Jane Levy just doesn’t have the time, tools, or charm to make us care even a little about Mia. That makes the last 20 minutes of the movie an exercise not only in how over the top bro they can take this, but also in audience patience.

There was a time for unlikable horror stooges getting killed wholesale by some ludicrous avatar of innate human bloodlust (and, Cabin taught us, murderous contempt for the young) actually worked in movies. 2013 is not it. That ship has sailed and with it went the assumptions and conventions of a genre built on little else. Evil Dead is certainly a well made redundancy and it is definitely watchable, but this does not keep it from being a redundancy after all. And redundancies are helplessly boring.

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I want that guy in the sequel.

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