Saturday, September 7, 2013

Evil Dead (2013) - Why Am I Grilling This Movie For Looking Good?

Well, most of the summer film queue is over, but I've still got a 'to do' of this year's releases in general to work through. With this in mind, after a lot of mixed feelings on my own interest in seeing it, I finally decided 'Hell with it' and got around to checking out Fede Alvarez's remake of the cult classic The Evil Dead.

Personally, I felt really torn on this one going in. On the one hand, the filmmakers' enthusiasm actually had me sold on wanting to give this movie a shot. On the other, the trailers felt...I didn't quite know how to put it at
the time. They looked nice, but they lacked a certain je ne sais quoi that I come to expect when I hear Evil Dead.

Yeah, I know that sounds kind of biased, which is why I still decided to shut that voice up and finally got around to seeing the movie.

In some ways, I have to admit, I was actually pleasantly surprised. At the same time, I also felt myself let down in other ways.

OK, I'll just go for the throat and say it before I dive right in: Alvarez's Evil Dead is both a good and bad film all at once. On its own, it's actually a well done horror film, especially for a man making his feature debut. On the other, for as good as it is in its own doesn't really feel like an Evil Dead movie.

...well, OK, there WAS that, but not really the best scene to use to recapture that feeling.

I'll explain that further later. I just needed to get that out of my system before I went on.

Now then, let's get started.

The film begins with a prologue that, to its credit, could actually make for a pretty good short film on its own. One of the things this version actually has over the predecessor it takes its name from is that the script by
Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues aims to give more backstory, both to the main characters, and to the infamous Book of the Dead that triggers everything. As such, this opening helps give a bit of insight into how the book wound up at the cabin for this movie - and on its own it's actually a pretty good little bit of creepiness to set things into motion. With that, we jump into the main movie: unlike the earlier version, and again, this is one area I think this version actually has an advantage, we learn more about the future victims, both in general and right out of the gate. This time around, the trip to the cabin has a bit more motivation behind it than the old horror tradition of going for a weekend of fun and/or casual sex. Rather, the group have gathered at the request of Mia (Jane Levy,) a former junkie who's trying to go straight. This trip to the cabin is her detox - they're gonna stay until she's completely cleaned up. This angle actually serves the writers fairly well early in, particularly as it fuels both the general character interaction, and allows for a degree of slow escalation as the movie's supernatural elements begin. At first they build up slowly, with the group finding a basement loaded with occult objects and dead animals (which, while a little heavy handed, is still not too badly done.) Then comes the famous Book of the Dead among these things, and anyone who's familiar with the story knows where this is heading.
That said, the summoning is one area where I do have to dock the film a couple of minor points - in the original, the scene with the group playing the tape is, admittedly not the brightest thing in the world, but to their credit, it's not like they particularly know better at that point. By comparison, when Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) is thumbing through the book and sees the words, explicitly written in English 'DO NOT READ OUT LOUD,' and does so's hard not to say he brought it on himself.

The fact the warning is attached to a book that looks like this just makes it even less excusable.

Anyway, from here, like I said, the film actually ramps itself up pretty well - again, they take advantage of the detox angle, and the fact Mia is the first person targeted by the demons, to allow the events to slowly build. Thanks to her history, the rest of the group, including her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) assume this is part of her addiction talking and don't realize something else is genuinely wrong until it's too late. Additionally, one of the other areas this version distinguishes itself from the earlier Evil Dead movies is in the fact that the use of the Book triggers a ritual, leading in part to further escalation of the horrors that will be inflicted on the ill-fated visitors. This leads to a neat narrative device in using the ritual to parallel the things that happen over the course of the movie. While this could be seen by some as a bit on the nose, I have to admit, I thought it was an interesting element - suggesting that these seeming acts of mutilation and death are not simply random acts from the demons, but part of a deliberate cycle.

Wow...that's a lot for discussing the plot to an Evil Dead movie.

Anyway, like I said, on its own merits, this is actually a pretty well made movie. Alongside the extra effort put into the script, the movie has a good cast going for it. Most notably Levy as Mia, whose character gets run, all but literally, through a wringer over the course of this movie, and she handles it all well. The rest of the group, carry their weight on this one too. It's not gonna be particularly award-winning fare for this year, but it still holds up well. Likewise, for his first time full-time, Alvarez's direction shows a good eye for the subject matter. Some of the sequences he has put together in this are creative and fairly squirm-inducing, and outside of those, he even lands one surprise I have to admit I didn't expect. Pair this with some VERY welcome use of practical effects and this movie is actually a rather promising first offering.

"Just keep telling's for an authentic effect...", some of you are probably wondering "then why did you call it a bad movie before?"
That's...actually kind of the weird thing. Like I said before, this is a good movie. It's partially because of that that it's not a particularly good Evil Dead movie.

Don't read this as a slam on the Evil Dead trilogy, mind you. Anyone who was here last October knows that's not the case.

But after three films and a lot of tie-in media, the Evil Dead trilogy has essentially cemented itself with an
identity defined now in part by the wonderfully low budget, somewhat goofy style that has made the films as embraced as comedy as they have been horror. I want to give this film points for trying to go back to its roots, but the fact is, that image has become such a pronounced part of the Evil Dead identity, that this film just doesn't really feel like it lives up to the name. Most notably with regards to the production values - again, I actually was rather impressed with the effects on this movie, practical FX in the age of CGI, especially when done well, are always a welcome change.

But, again, seeing something look this polished and professional just feels alien to have bearing the Evil Dead name.

I realize it sounds weird, but that's the score here. Again, I commend the efforts on the part of Alvarez and his team. Honestly, the big problem here isn't even their fault per se. It's just what happens when you go all in on a brand that's built its identity on its low budget trappings...well, it feels like the wrong way to go is all.

It's a rather curious feeling...not bad, but curious.

Two more entries tomorrow.

See you then...and maybe in your nightmares!

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