2013 has not been a good year for Sam Raimi.
Not commercially, oh heavens no: We’re talking artistically. “Oz the Meh and Suckish” raked in those sweet, sweet millions recently, a fact many a Raimi fan surely finds disheartening due to that film’s complete lack of his signature gonzo style. That’s how you make it in Hollywood, people – tone it down. Don’t swing for the fences, aim for the cheap seats. Make a flat, complacent piece of Skittle vomit that nobody will remember in five years.
There’s a lot of that same air of desperation and emptiness about “Evil Dead,” first-time director Fede Alvarez’s remake-that’s-kind-of-a-sequel to Raimi’s 1981 film, “The Evil Dead” (that small title change is how you know this is a different movie). Raimi serves as producer on this “new” project as if to say, “Yep, this is fine. It’s not like I’ve got my own, much better film for people to revisit; the kids want remakes, so let’s give them remakes.” You can feel the “whatever” seeping from every blood-soaked frame.
If you’ve ever seen a horror movie, you know the plot. A group of five attractive twentysomethings go to a spooooooky cabin in the spooooooky woods, where they find a spooooooky book and decide to read from it, which provokes some demons’ wrath. Lots of spooooooky bloody mayhem involving chainsaws and other sharp instruments ensues, insert your own zombie redneck torture family joke here, yadda yadda.
Let’s ask and answer the million dollar question right up front: What does this new “Evil Dead” bring to the table that Raimi’s original didn’t? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Which makes it all the more unforgivable – it lacks so many of the qualities that made the original a classic.
First, Alvarez is not anywhere near the visual stylist that Raimi is. Raimi was able to create an unsettling mood through the use of heavily contrasting colors, careful use of the wide-angle lens, unusual angles and spare lighting. Alvarez opts for the same painfully generic washed-out, filthy, all-brown-everything aesthetic that every single modern horror remake has, and the effect is simply tiring. The film completely lacks atmosphere. In addition, the editing is so frenzied that it makes some gore scenes completely incomprehensible, when the film needs to slow down and show off the effects. People with epilepsy probably should not see this, since there’s at least one scene that could trigger seizures.
Based on that, the film simply tries way too hard. You said your intent was to make a pure horror film, Mr. Alvarez? Well, you failed. Right out of the gate from the completely unnecessary prologue, the film tries so hard to be “edgy” and “extreme” that it’s almost laughable. Hmmm, a girl got tied to a post and burned alive? Not edgy enough, have her scream “f—k” a bunch of times. The kids are at the cabin for vacation? Not extreme enough, let’s make one of the characters a heroin addict. All the gore and blood (which is at least done with decent practical effects) keeps coming so fast and hard that it’s not even scary, just numbing. Note to all aspiring horror filmmakers – gore is not inherently scary. Stop trying to tell us that it is.
There’s also the constant attempts to recapture the lightning in a bottle magic of the original. Alvarez throws out homage after homage to Raimi’s films (including, sadly, the infamous “tree rape” scene that Raimi was personally ashamed of), but everything is telegraphed so far in advance and played out with so little regard for what made those earlier films scary that he forgets to make his own movie.
This comes through particularly in the film’s treatment of its characters. Raimi’s film mocked them relentlessly through the Deadite characters and almost meta dialogue (“Don’t worry, this bridge is solid as a rock,” followed by the bridge breaking), but it never presented them as incompetent boobs. In this film, the characters display absolutely no self-awareness (ironic, considering the split-second appearance of a poster for Raimi’s original in the basement) or even basic intelligence, right down to one dumbass reading from the Necronomicon without any incentive to do so.
But perhaps the worst part about this mess is Alvarez’s attempts to make us feel something. There’s a laughably rushed and forced backstory involving a dead mother that the film loves to whip out for cheap drama (complete with sappy piano) at the worst possible moments, like it’s a freaking Nicholas Sparks movie. Too bad the actors can’t sell it, and the dialogue is embarrassingly wooden.
Oh, and the “we’re gonna get you” bit that’s been all over the TV spots? That’s not in the movie. Enjoy your disappointment and overpriced popcorn.
Speakeasy Grade: D-
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci
Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language