I’m going to take this film apart because that’s the only way to save its soul.
Those of you familiar with this site will know I am a fan of the Evil Dead series. I have written at great length about the merits of The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, and I’m glad to have done, as I will not have to retread what those films do so well to get at what this one does so poorly.
That Fede Alvarez, the director of this Evil Dead, has no greater film credit to his name than a YouTube music video should not be held against him. That Diablo Cody had a hand in writing the script (screenwriter for Juno and Jennifer’s Body) should not be held against her either. No, for I have made many mistakes in my past, and I believe we should judge artists on their individual works. Let us live in the present.
Presently, this movie is lousy.
As of this writing I can’t locate where principal filming took place, but the woods are lovely, dark and deep. The greens and browns are saturated with an ominous fog and all $14 million of the budget are visible onscreen. The film’s antagonist/protagonist Mia is played by Jane Levy and she is the only solid actor in her cast. It’s too bad most of her work is overlaid with a stupid sound effect.
Also, for those of you who will see this film, stay after the credits. The stinger is the one thing you probably wanted to see anyway.
Alright, now let’s get on with the rest of the review.
“The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience”
Evil Dead follows the same basic plot of the original. Five young people journey to an abandoned cabin in the woods. The main difference is an interesting albeit wasted twist on the original concept: Rather than a scenic vacation, the group are at the cabin to watch over Mia (Jane Levy), their mutual friend and recovering heroin addict. The cabin has been in Mia’s family for years and is meant to be a place of security and isolation.
From that point things go from withdrawal to worse as evidence of a hideous ritual is discovered in the basement of the cabin, as well as a book bound in human flesh and filled with ominous warnings. Mia can sense that something is very wrong right away, but her fear is ascribed to chemically-induced paranoia. The group agrees to stay no matter what. Mia is soon possessed by the evil awakened by the book, and then the festivities commence in earnest.
Welcome to the Monkey House
The first misstep is the film’s introduction. We are thrust into the midst of a loud possession already underway. This undercuts the atmosphere immediately (though we will soon discover the film has no atmosphere to speak of) by introducing us to all the special effects and profanity we will be enduring for the next 90 minutes with characters we don’t care about and will not see again. I assume the weird rednecks we meet in this prologue will be revealed in more detail in the sequel. (If Damon Lindelof had not been murdered by a raccoon last year I would swear this had his stench about it.)
Shiny, Happy People
The actors are pretty. The latter bit of that last sentence is carrying the load of the lying former half. The original Evil Dead is certainly no yardstick for character development, but with the exception of Ms. Levy the actors all fail at depicting relatable, likable or interesting characters. The script is bad and our nominal lead David (Shiloh Fernandez) has the charm of a skinned knee. His friends are petulant scabs of lower orders.
Singing the Songs of Angry Men
The score never shuts up. It just goes on and on. Scare cues and chords are in full force and they wreck any hint of an atmosphere. The score is so remarkably bad and omnipresent that I will nominate it as the real monster of this movie. Monkeys with hammers and drums do this.
This Movie Makes No Sense
All jokes aside, Evil Dead has only one real problem: It’s not scary.
It’s not scary. It’s loud and it’s violent.
Fear, like humor, is a tricky beast. Personal taste accounts for a lot but there are some things that affect us all equally. Violence, dismemberment, the unknown, abandonment, sickness, these are scary things. But Evil Dead wields them the same way its monkeys play their drums – with hammers, again and again.
Let’s talk the beginning again: We ruin the buildup to our supernatural payoff with a quick money shot and a foul mouthed young woman who quickly transforms into a black-eyed monster. So where is our suspense? Beginning with that image and then forcing us to wait for it to happen again deadens the anticipation because the movie already took us to the next level. If Mia is suffering withdrawal symptoms why couldn’t we have gone with that thread a little longer, establish a connection with the character and let her illness merge into the evil that abides in the cabin? This simple question is symbolic of the film’s greater shortcomings.
With Evil Dead, Alvarez seems to lack even a basic understanding of what worked for Sam Raimi’s original. Yes, the 1981 feature was violent, it was extreme, it was grisly for its time. But there was more to it than that.
No one is accusing The Evil Dead of being high art. It never was and it never set out to be. What you cannot remove from its pedigree is its innovation. What the original conjured for us was a malevolent force of Kandarian demons, who had no agenda beyond torturing mortals. Physical torture was the least of it. The Kandarians were silly, they were perverted, they were inane and irreverent and slapstick menaces. Yes, everyone would be dead by dawn but it was not going to be a quick or easy death. It would be protracted and haunting. Things galloped past and giggled, reality warped. (The most effective foley work in the new film happens over its credits, when they play Professor Knowby’s recording from the original.) Raimi had no major studio behind him and he was learning as he went. He spent years honing his skills with sound, with silence, with strange camera angles and stranger evil. His video nasty was a labor of love.
There is absolutely no love in 2013’s version. The violence is definitely gory. But there is none of the queerness, none of the black humor, none of the creeping horror that makes every minute of The Evil Dead a waking nightmare.
We don’t settle in with the characters. Bad actors are one thing but the cabin is never just a cabin; it’s a site of unholy weirdness. Alaverez is terrified of silence, though I do not blame him completely – this film is very much a work of its time. Silence is not something this film would know how to deal with.
When not compared to the original it actually fares much worse. On its own this is yet another bombastic and uncreative effort by an industry that is supposed to thrive on creativity. Just as Movie 43 was a comedy without comedy, Evil Dead is horror minus the horror. You kill a dog with a hammer, you’re killing a dog with a hammer. How you kill the dog, why you kill the dog, that’s what scares people. No better image sums up this effort than an off-centered clip of Mia banging away at something offscreen. She screams like a monkey, she hammers like a monkey.
And the music wails and whoops.
When the Pirates Eat the Tourists
I recently rewatched Jurassic Park for its 3D re-release and in writing this review I am reminded of the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm, as played by the inimitable Jeff Goldblum. His objections to John Hammond cloning dinosaurs can easily be seen as the objection of any film fan to a remake:
Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun. …Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: It didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it…
The film does not grow into its insidiousness; it wants to inherit a 30 year old franchise on the good grace of its predecessors and skip out on the hard work of suspense. Alvarez, or his studio, is the kid with the gun. If you go to see Evil Dead you will see a lot of boom boom and a lot of blood. (As if the film couldn’t get any less self-conscious its final setpiece takes place in a downpour of that particular bodily fluid.)
The Naturom Demontos becomes nothing more than a stepping stone to some uber-demon; I guess Satan. There are no Kandarian demons, and thus the possessions of the other members of Mia’s group are inexplicable. The single evil entity that orchestrates the madness was done better in Cabin in the Woods, and even he had tech support. This movie isn’t a ride, it’s a grisly slog over torment without direction.
I hear they want to make a sequel to this Evil Dead and I think that would be a terrible idea, because this is a terribly stupid movie.
Based on The Evil Dead (1981) by Sam Raimi
Evil Dead (2013)
Directed by Fede Alvarez