Friday, May 10, 2013
Movie Review: Evil Dead (the reboot)
Evil Dead (2013 reboot)
This movie had a real legacy to follow, so it was sort of inevitable that the Evil Dead reboot would fail on some level for some portion of the audience. Honestly, if you don't think of it as an Evil Dead film....or maybe as just some spin-off, it's not too bad. The problem comes when it draws comparisons to the original....or more specifically, to Evil Dead II, because this is definitely a reimagining of the original low budget Evil Dead, the very first one, and not the crazier and more extravagant remake, from a time when remakes weren't even officially branded as reboots. This is a shame, because as I recall, Evil Dead II was just Sam Raimi redoing the original movie the way he wanted it, so honoring the first without regard for the impact of the second is problematic.
Anyway, following Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi in their seminal camp horror-gorefest is tough. Trying to recreate the sense of the movie is apparently even harder in the current generation of horror films, as Evil Dead demonstrates amply over its hour and thirty one minutes of desperate efforts at maximum gore while sort of missing the point of the originals entirely.
As I said, this movie has some merits on its own. More a reimagining of Evil Dead than a continuation, it features the story of Mia (Jane Levy), her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend and two other well-intended friends who decide to help Mia kick a nasty drug habit for the last time by heading out to the old family cabin in the woods. (FYI this movie fits in quite well with the Cabinverse). As Mia starts her cycle of withdrawal the crew, who had previously discovered that the cabin had been broken into, uncover distrurbing evidence something horrible happened in the basement. They also find the book...after which bad things soon start happening.
The book, which is never called the Necronomicon in the film, has been excised of Kandarian Demons and the undertones of some sort of camp take on the mythos lore. It's Sumerian text is replaced largely with more modern depictions, writing and other iconography that suggests a more satanic, acceptably evil Christian undertone; the forest demon has been replaced by some vague references to Shaitan. If one were to scrabble around looking for a way to fit this movie into the context of the originals....and I advise against it....you wouldn't be remiss in assuming that this tome is not, in fact, the same as the Necronomicon of the original three films.
The deadites are here....sort of, but scrubbed down a bit (despite being gorier than ever), replaced by more conventional images of demonically infused/possessed people. They spend more time growling and making zombie-like noises than they do actually...you know.. talking. That thing they did in the original that made them exceptionally weird and disturbing (and campily entertaining as the years wore on). The demon tree is here, too....but it's a bit more subdued, even if it now gets prime time front and center with kicking it all off with the demon tree rape scene. The demon in the woods....which may or may not be the demon tree as well....is now an evil demon girl, a mirror or cypher for Mia, in some ways, and her addiction.
Anyway, the film moves along at a modest pace for a while, then stuff starts happening, and before you know it things appear to be wrapping up, but since this is a typical modern horror film we know its just trying to lull us into a false sense of security before one final act. Then that act happens, things actually start feeling like a Real Evil Dead movie for a few minutes, and then it ends in what can only be described as a clear effort to leave room for a direct sequel. Wait around for the final ending credits for a brief cameo (as in three seconds) by Bruce Campbell saying groovy, to serve as a giant, unpleasant reminder that the entire movie failed to hit the mark, and that hiding away somewhere is the spark of a genuinely good Evil Dead movie....but not this one.
So why did it fail? I'm going to call spoilers here and now, so avert your eyes! Otherwise, read on:
First off, the gore is better than ever, and there are some genuinely distrubing/sickening/vile scenes in this movie. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the original Evil Dead films were well known for pushing the gore limit to new highs, it wasn't just this fact that made them stand out; rather, it was the insanely bizarre way in which they did it, Ash's descent into madness and the increasingly bizarre and vile humor of the deadites as they did everything from reanimate the body parts of his dead girlfriend to liquefying another victim, on down to destroying the canyon bridge, leaving it looking like a hideous claw. The new Evil Dead just doesn't seem to get this idea of camp gore and horror.....or how to implement it. It's going for some sort of weird mix of quasi-realism mixed with occasional moments of surprisingly modest attempts at extremism (such as the rain of blood toward the end, or the sawing-off-the-arm event).
It's missing the weird. technically it's got lots of weird, but only if you haven't watched a contemporary horror film in the last twenty five years. A few examples of great moments from the original that are utterly absent (or lacking any equivalent) from the original:
In 1987 the demon tree spirit is like some sort of insane invisible motorcycle ripping relentlessly through the woods in "Raimicam" mode. In 2013 it's a spooky girl being borrowed from countless other spooky girl horror films.
In 1987 the deadites loved levitating, twisting time, creating disturbing effects (everything from drowning Ash in an endless spray of blood to the laughing taxidermied animals). In 2013 they...ummm.....cut themselves a lot and groan a bit like zombies. Only Mia, as a deadite, gets any serious dialogue.
In 1987 Ash's hand becomes possessed and tries to kill him. He cuts it off and spends a fair amount of time engaged in hysterical yet horrific battle with his demon limb. In 2013 girlfriend Natalie gets the demon in her hand in the same way, and hacks it off with an electric meat cutter, but then she just sorta fades out and comes back possessed moments later with a nail gun because nobody in the 2013 movie can figure out that they shouldn't leave each other alone for even two seconds. She then dies of...blood loss I guess?....and that's it for her. These are really, really wimpy deadites in 2013. (Speaking of which, they are never actually called deadites in the movie; consider that: they made a reboot of a film that iconically coined the term deadite, with deadites that refer to themselves as deadites, and do very deadite-like things such as levitating, and they throw all of that out for what amount to possessed demon-zombies).
Not only do we have the aforementioned scene, but later on Mia loses her hand (or most of it) after it is trapped under a car. Apparently someone felt like it wouldn't be appropriately iconic for her to live to the end of the movie and not have a missing limb. Sigh.
It's been a long time since I saw the original 1981 Evil Dead so I don't entirely recall how it ended, but it's impossible to forget how Evil Dead II ended: Ash, sent back in time, after stopping the Tree Demon made manifest as it tries to punch through into our reality for an all out invasion of the mortal realm. Fantastic stuff. Cut to 2013: we end with a good chainsawing of the spooky girl demon, which apparently ends the threat (for now).
To their credit, the spooky girl demon does disintegrate into a puddle of goo much as the deadite did in the original (was that the end? I really do forget). Maybe this was true to the original, I guess I'll have to hunt it down. If so, then I hope they plan to do a proper remake of Evil Dead II. It deserves it.
One thing that bugged me: we saw a spooky well early on. Mia dumps her drugs down it as a symbol of her commitment to getting clean. We never see that well again. What the hell?!? What a lost opportunity.
The fact that they presented neither the bone knife nor the actual Necronomicon of the original films annoys me, if only because those two props are indelibly linked to the franchise, and have even appeared in other horror films. Would it have been too much to ask to have them in here? Apparently, yes, because this movie was repackaged as a "realistic" depiction of its low-key madness, focused exclusively on realistic gore and a moderate, underwhelming interpretation of its legacy. Hard to believe I would use those words to describe an Evil Dead film, even one that includes some remarkably realistic violence....but it's unfortunately true.
You know, I came out of the movie thinking it was a poor Evil Dead remake but would have been alright if it was represented as its own thing. It needs to be stated that Jane Levy's performance as Mia was great, even if (or because) she spent half the movie possessed. However, as I have thought about it in relation to the original (and especially the 1987 remake) I am at a loss as to why they thought this movie was going to go over so well. Maybe it will appeal to the younger horror fans, for whom Scream, Saw, Blair Witch and serial killer flicks are the norm. Despite this, I really think there's room out there for the over-the-top madness of a true Evil Dead movie. Maybe they'll get it right next time.
This movie had a few moments in which it was trying (and failing) to surprise the audience. Next time, they should try making a real Evil Dead movie, and that alone might be surprise enough!
Addendum: I was thinking about this movie a bit more, and had a few more comments:
1st: my supposition that this movie would play well with a younger crowd that didn't have familiarity with the original Evil Dead films seems to be right. Every one of my younger cohorts I have spoken with is surprised to hear I didn't enjoy the movie. I, of course, look like a nostalgia-filled mad grognard as I tell them that they really need to check out the original two Evil Dead movies for contrast.
2nd: While I still believe that Jane Levy made this film bearable, I also realize she was badly underutilized in this movie. The entirety of the original films was effectively from one character's perspective (Ash) and all other characters were playing off of his madness. The remake tried too hard to mitigate the idea of one character as focus, even though we knew it was going to end up that way, to the extent that even Mia was possessed and locked in the basement for far too long.
3rd: Another reason I gave this movie a C- was because, ultimately, when it was over I left the theater feeling, well, bad. It wasn't a good movie to watch. There was no sense of resolution, triumph, or even admiration for the cunning and evil entities of the film...I just felt sort of washed out, like I had been subject too far too much pointless gore and excess without any redeeming qualities. This is something I have personally encountered in a lot of horror films that are more in line the the splatterpunk/serial killer/morbid death subgenre (or whatever you want to call it), films such as Final Destination or Saw, or much older movies such as Xombie and many other grindhouse films where it was the sheer excess that was the whole point of the movie. Evil Dead 2013 is in line with this style of film, but its predecessors weren't (in my estimation). Why? Because despite the over-the-top gore, Evil Dead 1 and 2 were more about the descent to madness, the struggle, and the sheer insanity of what was happening. When you get to the end of Evil Dead II you feel like you've hit a high moment of triumph even as Ash is faced with what appeared to be a horrific exile into the past....but he had mastered the art of killing deadites, y'see, and that was a good thing.
Because of the pacing in the remake, we just don't really get that from Mia. She wasn't given enough time to shine as the modern day rendering of the Ash role, instead coming off as yet another survivor who figures out that chainsaws are good at putting deadites down, and even then her access to a chainsaw happens in the last few minutes of the movie, unlike in Evil Dead II where it was Kind of a Big Deal. Plus....and I can't stress this enough....the lack of any sort of humor, dark or camp, was the real reason that in the end I left the theater feeling like maybe I should have waited for this to show up on Netflix, instead.