2013 - 91 minutes
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Written by: Fede Alvarez, Diablo Cody, Rodo Sayagues
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
Buckets and buckets of blood. That’s what this updated version of Evil Dead delivers. What it’s lacking is any of the wit or charm that shines through in Sam Raimi’s original low-fi version of THE Evil Dead. Though the outright silliness of the series didn’t show up until Evil Dead II, the first installment had an exhilarating spirit that shone through the scares.
The 2013 Evil Dead takes itself way too seriously at the outset that by the time it attempts to have some fun it seems disingenuous. As a fan of the original series, I will admit that I smiled at several of the homages – the Michigan State shirt, spyglass necklace and so on. But that’s the low-hanging fruit for the filmmakers and first time feature director Fede Alvarez fails to elevate the raw materials.
The film begins with a prologue that is pointless beyond giving a loose purpose for the cursed “book of the dead” to be onsite. Post title-card five good-looking 20-somethings descend upon the cabin in the woods where the prologue took place. There is a potentially interesting twist on the standard scenario – the group is there to help support drug addict Mia (Jane Levy) as she attempts to kick the habit. Also a smart way to allow for the additional members of the group to dismiss her crazy rants about “something in the woods.”
Mia is joined by her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his bland girlfriend, nursing student and friend Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). And the poor dog tags along for the sole purpose of being the first victim.
Aside from the brother/sister there isn’t any depth to any of the characters and each is there so serve a singular purpose. Eric is there to discover the book and for some reason read the demon-conjuring incantations to himself. Poor Elizabeth Blackmore, who plays David’s girlfriend Natalie, is there to stand in the background and spout a few lines of completely disposable dialogue…until it comes time for her to cut her own arm off. Oh, and to be the subject of the ever-present scene in modern horror movies where a girl is laying on the ground looking at the camera until they are suddenly dragged away.
Originality is sorely lacking in the look of the film – especially in the first act. There is absolutely nothing that distinguishes this film from any of the other recent slick re-imagined versions of horror classics (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th et all). It is dark and highly stylized with a hyper-real feel that robs the film of any soul.
After the necessary actions are taken to set in motion the inevitable sequences of jump scares and gore, it’s a little too late for the film to make any type of impact. Practical effects finally help the film stand on its own a bit, but practical gore just for the sake of gore (even if you can appreciate the work that goes into it) just ain’t enough. There is nothing to latch on to, and it feels as though we plod from one overly-staged trick to the next. It looked cool and horrifying, but I didn’t feel anything. And for a film that begs to be a visceral experience, that is an unforgivable void.
Evil Dead had been much talked about prior to its release and the marketing campaign generated a ton of excitement. The graphic trailers and filmmaker statements promised a wild experience, worthy of a ridiculous tagline like “the most terrifying film you will ever experience” plastered on the poster. Prior to seeing the film, this proclamation seemed like just a fun little bit of hyperbole, but after actually experiencing it, it just seems a little desperate and another example showing why you shouldn’t always believe the hype.