|• Jack the Giant Slayer ★★★|
|• Side Effects ★★★½|
|• Arbitrage ★★★½|
|• Stand Up Guys ★★|
Directed by Fede Alvarez. Starring Shiloh Fernandez, Jane Levy, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci, Elizabeth Blackmore. Written by Fede Alvarez, Diablo Cody, and Rodo Sayagues, from the original 1981 film written by Sam Raimi.
They say they don’t make ‘em like they used to, but Evil Dead is exactly the kind of movie I thought we’d never see again: in this age of fast and cheap CGI bloodletting effects, here’s splatter movie comprised entirely (or almost-entirely) of traditional practical f/x work that delights in showering the screen with amounts of blood and gore so high they enter the subversive Dead Alive territory. Groovy, indeed.
2013’s Evil Dead, directed by Fede Alvarez, is a remake of Sam Raimi’s breakthrough 1981 film of the same name; it was based on the director’s student film Within the Woods, and remade by Raimi a half-decade later as Evil Dead II. Raimi serves as producer here, along with original producer Rob Tappert and the one-and-only Ash, Bruce Campbell.
The material itself is nothing special – a group of friends head out to a remote cabin in the woods, and unwittingly release…evil – and I always wondered what so attracted the director to it again and again, like an artist perfecting his masterpiece. But the results speak for themselves: gleefully gruesome, comic, scary, and sardonic, The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II are cult classics, and two of the most beloved horror films of the past 30 years.
By-the-numbers story, lightning-in-a-bottle filmmaking. By any reasonable expectations, this was something that could not be successfully remade; how do you expect to capture that lightning this time around?
Consider me blown away: they’ve done it, and 2013’s Evil Dead legitimately equals its predecessors with glorious practical effects, incredibly effective scenes of violence and terror, a no-apologies ‘tude, and an allegorical storyline that actually deepens and enhances what the original films started out with. Whoa.
At the outset, however, I was worried. Completely unnecessary witch-burning prologue? Check. Bland, uninteresting characters without anything resembling an Ash in sight? Check. A story that threatens to be about…something…other than all hell breaking loose? Check.
That story concerns a group of friends – David (Shiloh Fernandez), Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) – who travel to the remote cabin to help David’s sister Mia (Jane Levy) get over her heroine addiction, cold turkey. Five minutes in, and this is already more plot than the original films gave us.
But soon the Book of the Dead is unearthed and…my goodness. Evil Dead dials it up to eleven as the characters get possessed and come at each other with knives, shards of glass, a shotgun, crowbar, machete, chainsaw, nail gun, an electric carving knife, and more, showering the screen with more blood, gore, and severed limbs than five people can conceivably generate.
And by the end – all this horror, this madness – why, the perfect metaphor for drug withdrawal! I tip my cap to you, screenwriters (Alvarez, Diablo Cody, and Rodo Sayagues): you’ve made this material work on a whole ‘nother level.
The film’s only fault is that is occasionally pauses for a breather; otherwise, this is one of the most unrelentingly intense horror films I’ve ever seen, with scenes of terror that go on well past the usual comfort zone. These scenes are incredibly effective: perfectly shot, edited, and choreographed, giving us a perfect sense of time and setting, of where characters and objects are in relation to each other, and exactly what horrible, horrible things are happening. Any mainstream action director should be jealous.
And shockingly…they were composed by a director making his feature debut: Fede Alvarez, who gained fame a few years ago via YouTube and his 5-minute Panic Attack. That was a nifty little short, but nothing compared to what he accomplishes here. It’s a great success story – and Alvarez is definitely a director to watch – but whether he had some help or just took a lot of inspiration, Raimi’s fingerprints are all over this one.
Please note: this is one of the most gruesome films ever to receive an ‘R’ rating in the US (the original film, which carries an NC-17, feels positively quaint in comparison). You have been warned.
With Evil Dead and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, the first quarter of 2013 has dished up some deliciously subversive delights. Bon Appétit!
Be sure to stick around through the credits for a couple quick throwback gags to the original films (including the “Fake Shemp” credit).
Also opening this week: