EVIL DEADMOVIE REVIEW
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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
From years of Horror movie experience, I should have smelled a rat when I saw a movie poster that told me in huge writing how terrifying it was going to be.
I should have known from years of experience that any movie releasing so many Red Band trailers was showing the best of what the movie had - and that it would get no better.
But damn it! I'm a Horror fan and I wanted so much to Believe! This is Sam Raimi, man (producing, anyway)!
We start with the first 5 minute Gotcha scene.
We see a bloodied girl chased down in the woods, captured and tied up. She wakes, tied to a post in a basement, surrounded by folks in various states of age and repair. Her father steps forward to tell her that she murdered her own mother and he douses her with gas. The girl pleads with Pop not to kill her, but the people around her, including a witch who tells him to hurry before it's too late, egg him on.
Pop lights a lighter and that's when the girl's eyes go all sclera contacts and she starts bitching like some uncouth lout on the Maury Povitch show. Pop sets her on fire and we watch her burn, the demon-girl laughing and cursing, beneath a ceiling full of hanging, sacrificed cats. Then Pop raises a rifle and blows her head off.
Pretty heady! Pretty powerful! Pretty damn strong!
Then nothing in the rest of the movie surpasses it. And that scene removes all surprise from everything that happens when a person gets possessed.
I think of all of the movies (those that bothered) with a 5 minute gotcha, that handled it so much better. In JAWS when we see the first attack, we never see the shark. Not so much as a fin! We don't even see blood! Everything in that first five minutes is a mere hint of the terror below. Everything that comes after, bit by bit, takes us closer to a face to face with that terror. But that wasn't good enough for EVIL DEAD 2013.
After the obligatory 5 minute Gotcha scene, we see David (Shiloh Fernandez: RED, DEAD GIRL, RED RIDING HOOD ) driving his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) into the deep woods and up to the family cabin that is so familiar to fans of the original THE EVIL DEAD (great production design, courtesy of Robert Gillies: XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS [TV], BOOGEYMAN).
There, David meets his estranged friends, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci: CARRIERS) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas: THE COVENANT, CLOVERFIELD, AMUSEMENT). Seems David disappeared from his friend's lives some years ago. This, in fact, is the overall character plot point that drives the motivations of everyone when everything goes to hell. Yet we never find out why David left his friends or his little sister, Mia (Jane Levy).
We can tell Mia's all messed up in the head because she is a loner, is dressed in black, and smokes cigarettes.
Seems the reason they are all there is to help Mia kick her drug addiction - yet again. Mia sort of, kind of, despises her brother David for having, y'know, abandoned her and all, but Grandpa the dog is there to soothe her feelings. David left Mia while she was still a child, with their Mom who was dying of insanity, and he took the dog too.
Where did he go and why did he abandon her? She'll never know, we'll never know, but since he brought Grandpa back, Mia is willing to give him another chance.
Why did David abandon everyone and where did he go?
Man, it would have been great to explore that. It would have made the deaths more meaningful.
The movie goes out of its way to create this big honking ostrich egg of David's abandonment of everyone being the inciting factor of everything happening now. But it just sits there and never hatches.
As for everyone else, the feeling is this is the last time any of them want to see each other. Whatever close bonds they once had are all gone because David mysteriously left.
You know, it would have been great to explore that too, how and why their lives changed in the vacuum of David's absence. It would have made the deaths more meaningful.
You know what happens when you give your characters the kind of depth that makes them meaningful? It makes their risk, sacrifice, endangerment, and deaths scarier - because the audience cares and identifies with them.
They all go in the house, Mia is the center of attention, her withdrawals kick in, and everybody makes the ill-fated discovery of what is in the basement. This basement beneath a lone cabin in the woods, appears to be more expansive than the cabin itself.
Well sure, why not?
Eric finds "The Book", and as Stone Blind Luck would have it, is able to translate the ancient language and properly pronounce the words within (and he does this despite all warnings someone scrawled all over the pages, in English, not to do that very thing!). Saying those words in this house is an incantation, of course, and Merry Mishaps occur when Sadako shows up, throws up, and the shit hits the fan.
Okay, so what went wrong with this movie?
Let's start with the Executive Producers. We have Joseph Drake. Joe was one of 10 Producers (one of four Executive Producers) on AMERICAN PSYCHO. Well kudos, Joe! Kudos for that!
After AP, Joe exec'd the lesser American remakes of THE GRUDGE and BOOGEYMAN. For an encore he shepherded through THE MESSENGERS, DRAG ME TO HELL, and THE POSSESSION. His resume got a slight lift with 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and THE STRANGERS, but he spent a lot of time with the likes of Stranger Than Fiction, Harold and Kumar movies, Juno, and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.
Then we have Maya Fukuzawa (formerly Maya Gallagher) whose biggest claims to fame are GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE and THE POSSESSION.
Exec Producer Three is Nathan Kahane, known for everything Joseph Drake is known for, plus Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and the continuing rise (Juno) and crash and burning, of Ellen Page's once promising career: thanks to movies like Whip It and Peacock (Ellen is currently filming a video game after two years of doing voice-overs for cartoons like Family Guy and Glenn Martin DDS).
Finally we come to Peter Schlessel, known for STAY ALIVE (hm?), PREY (yawn), and CATACOMBS (zzzz), and of course, POSSESSION. Though to be fair, he also helped bring us the cult hit, DRIVE and the box office hit, LOOPER.
So what is so "Grueling Horror" about anything in the careers of these executive producers?
What is so original Horror about the executive producers?
Not a thing. They are all strictly remake and also-ran folks.
But these executive producers did bring something to the table in the form of an Oscar winning writer! That person is Diablo Cody.
Diablo is famous for writing screenplays of spoiled angsty children faced with growing up against their will (Juno); spoiled angsty adults faced with growing up against their will (Young Adult), and one alleged Horror movie, JENNIFER'S BODY. The last two movies tanked thanks to hideously bad screenplays. But hey, who doesn't love a Come Back story?
Give it all you got, Diablo!
Helping Cody come to grips with writing anything more horrific than her edgier suburban versions of The Facts of Life, is Director Fede Alvarez. Fede is a short filmmaker (he makes short films, not that he is a... well, anyway) known for PANIC ATTACK! and EL COJONUDO. But because he is a short film maker I'm guessing that everyone gave final say to the Oscar winner.
That's just a guess, mind you.
EVIL DEAD is more than just a shake-out movie for Fede to get his feature feet wet before he tackles the hoped for, tent pole, big budget feature of PANIC ATTACK! (Giant Robots attacking a city! Like PACIFIC RIM, THE INCREDIBLES, or SKY CAPTAIN). This movie is also supposed to re-ignite THE EVIL DEAD franchise.
Well why not? Sam Raimi is well-known for igniting straight to video Horror franchises before, from DARKMAN to THE GRUDGE. He's even thrown film festival, critical and audience acclaimed movies that deserved theatrical release into the DtV dustbin (DANCE OF THE DEAD).
So since we're looking at a movie that wants to bring in the hard-core fans from the original THE EVIL DEAD, let's talk comparisons.
In comparison to the original THE EVIL DEAD, EVIL DEAD has nowhere near the gore. Understand that this EVIL DEAD definitely has more expensive gore, cgi gore, just not the wilder gore. It also has plenty of modern day Hollywood cliches: You know, like the old John Carpenter-blur that runs past the camera in the foreground to the ear-splitting sting of foley sound.
EVIL DEAD 2013 goes to the well too many times with:
Extreme close-ups of eyes wearing simple sclera contacts, and all the contacts look the same, and they all look like contacts.
Let me focus on that for a moment. Every time another person is possessed, the movie pauses to let us look at "those eyes". And every time they look more and more like contact lenses. The possessed make the minute snap movements of neck, arm, and leg, like we saw in THE GRUDGE, RINGU, and any number of other Japanese Horror flicks from 10 years ago. The repetitive, imitative shots are annoying.
If this movie was going to reference any horror movie, it should have never repeatedly referenced RINGU and THE GRUDGE. WTF, man?
Well yeah, we know WTF: the Executive Producers all made the American THE GRUDGE remake and by golly they aren't going to let us forget their past remakes!
Does anybody watch any of those GRUDGE movies anymore? The last one went direct to video, didn't it?
Anyway... where was I? Oh yeah. The American remake of THE GRUDGE was from the Japanese JU-ON which in turn was trying to cash its diminishing returns on the wild success of RINGU. So with EVIL DEAD 2013 we get...
The ghost girl who comes out of the water, shuffling along with her head down and black hair over her face!
What's more, the eyes changing, in and of themselves, isn't scary. There's no point in lingering on it. Audiences have watched this for years from the original THE EVIL DEAD on through the most popular TV show in the U.S., THE WALKING DEAD.
In fact, there is more gore in a single episode of THE WALKING DEAD than in EVIL DEAD. Audience expectations have passed this movie by while it was looking at how to improve on the original 1970's film.
Well then, how about the people in the story? All of them are selfish, charmless, humorless, and incessantly bitch at each other as a cheap paste-on excuse for character development. Everyone is trivial veneer with zero depth to their character as well as their motivation to help Mia get better.
No one seems to like her for one thing, and they all sure as hell don't seem to like each other. Even David and Natalie's relationship rides on default, as neither shows the slightest affection for the other.
So I was never given an opportunity to care about any of them. Bring on the gore because you've got nothing else!
But then EVIL DEAD sinks lower as the main character gets stupid.
At one point, after seeing two of his friends turn into knife and gun wielding, limb-chopping, enraged, homicidal, twisted maniacs, David still believes that maybe the Whole Problem is really just his sister going through severe withdrawals.
Don't get me wrong, the actors physically and emotionally gave it their best. The problem is they weren't given anything to give. No matter how quietly Shiloh Fernandez delivers David's inner revelation, that everyone is dismembering and killing each other as a reaction to his sister's drug withdrawal, it remains dumb-founding-ly inane.
If it was the beginning of David losing his marbles in the face of a terrifying onslaught, that would work, but it never happens. Sure David is challenged on his idiocy, but everyone is already so busy sniping in each other's face in this movie nearly the entire time, that it doesn't stand out!
It's not a catalyzing moment because the bitching never stops unless a monster is going to enter the scene. As lame as the monsters were, they were a welcome reprieve from the Jersey Shore shenanigans of the characters.
"What's wrong with you?"
I'm sitting there in the audience going so crazy I wanted to shout at the screen, "SHUT UP! SHUT THE HELL UP AND GET BACK TO THE MOVIE!"
I noticed the rest of the crowd (I was bored and looking around), reacting cringingly to the close-ups of limb chopping and hypodermic needles going into or coming out of skin.
The thing is, these were largely hypodermic needles going into, or coming out of the skin - like we saw in the Red Band trailers. And like we saw on the primetime TV show, House. Back in the 1990s we were treated to Scully removing the dripping organs from a corpse during an autopsy. I guess that gore is small screen by comparison, so there remains much to be said for a big screen theater experience.
In the original THE EVIL DEAD, a possessed person erupts in blood (which splashed in Ash's face), its body rotted before our eyes, then exploded off its bones (and hit Ash in the face), and its gore-caked skeleton crawled out of the filth of its own mangled corpse and upon Ash, and threw up (in Ash's face)!
The worst in the new EVIL DEAD is, a girl pukes blood on another girl's face and that happens midway through the movie.
EVIL DEAD 2013 has all of this going against it, plus the added bonus of Diablo Cody's teen angst and ennui, making EVIL DEAD 2013 the goriest Lifetime Channel movie I've ever seen. Big Brother and his friends do their tough love intervention for little Sis. They discuss their feelings kinda like this.
"Why weren't you there for me?"
"Why did you abandon me?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm here now."
"Well Tootie doesn't think that's good enough! And Mrs. Garrett says..."
SHUT UP! GOD DAMN IT! JUST SHUT THE HELL UP!
HOLY CRAP! Are they going to SPARKLE next?
Then it's back to the bitchy vulgarity (I've read worse in a Facebook flame war) and out comes the god damn sclera contacts (I dunno. Maybe they got a bulk deal at Costco).
So am I repeating myself here? Am I belaboring the point? Yes! That's exactly how I felt watching it!
EVIL DEAD 2013 is simply, utterly, and astoundingly derivative and mediocre.
This movie will likely work for people who are curious about Horror movies, having never seen one. As for Horror fans, two Shriek Girls.