Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Evil Dead Review: Deserted Cabins Are Awful Vacation Spots

There's something about abandoned cabins isolated in dark scary woods that really appeals to teenagers and young adults.  You'd think they'd prefer camping out at a National Park or going to a resort where there are typically fewer decapitations and severed arms.  I'm aging, so maybe I've lost touch with what the cool kids are into now.

Each group that ventures off to a rundown cabin in the creepy woods must be aware what has happened before.  There has been close to 30 years of "kids getting killed in the middle of nowhere" movies.  Even when The Evil Dead was released in 1981, the concept of a group of teens being terrorized in a cabin wasn't an original.  It had existed in campfire tales for generations.  The idea of possession or a haunted building or battling demons was definitely pretty tired by the film's release, because that was essentially the majority of the horror genre in the '70s.  The Evil Dead stood out because it had camp and charm pumping through its veins and was very aware it was a glorious B-film and embraced that fact.

Someone has decided to take a hatchet to The Evil Dead and expose a giant wound so all the camp and charm is drained out.  Now, we're left with the 2013 remake Evil Dead.  It is a film that takes itself dead seriously, and shows what happens when you want to make a legitimate horror picture with this franchise.

A group of five teenagers come to an abandoned and decrepit cabin in the creepiest woods I've ever seen.  They're clearly unaware that this is a horror movie, so I'll let this oversight on their part go.  We quickly discover that the girl named Mia (Jane Levy from the sitcom Suburgatory) is trying to kick her heroin addiction and this isolated location has been deemed the best spot to fight it.  I was actually really intrigued when this was revealed, because it was a fresh concept in the demon possession genre.  It would be cool to see her battling her personal demons while also having to save herself from real life demons.  I started thinking the film would turn out to be a smart analogy of a person's battle with drug addiction and reveal the horror that such a war can be.  I was wrong.  Instead, Evil Dead is a cautionary tale of why stupid people should not be allowed near power tools.

Jane Levy is an incredibly talented and beautiful actor.  Her Mia character is the most appealing and interesting in the film, because she has real stakes.  So of course, this means she needs to get possessed and spend the majority of the film locked up in the cellar where she taunts the rest of the characters.

What a group of winners the rest of them turn out to be in this film.  They're so one dimensional and dimwitted that they should have all worn t-shirts that said "Fresh Meat" on them.  I'm pretty sure the slab of steak in my fridge could beat them all in a game of Trivial Pursuit.  David (Shiloh Fernandez) is Mia's brother, and he seems to have "running away from trouble" issues and is guilty for abandoning his mother when she went insane.  This may actually sound like depth, but we're only told these things.  What we see is a guy easily manipulated by the rest of the group, and continues to fail to understand something is wrong even after seeing gallons of blood projectile vomited and a friend carving her face.  Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a real gem who is apparently a teacher, but after taking so much effort to free a cursed book from wire and wrappings, and then spending time sketching out words and speaking them out loud for no apparent reason even after warning signs like "Do Not Read This Book" or the fact the book came from a room of charred cats, well, I'm worried about the public school system now.  Olivia (Jessica Lucas) claims to be a nurse, but I'm pretty sure she confused dressing up as one at a Halloween party for being a real profession.  Then we finally have Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) who is. . . um. .. blond, I think.

I realize the horror genre doesn't rely on smart characters or even those that are well written.  If I'm to spend an hour and half watching them try to survive terror then I need to care about them a little bit.  When Mia is freaking out about possession, a car has been crashed into the lake, she clearly has wounds all over her body (not to mention damage elsewhere), then maybe it is time to think this intervention has failed.  Of course, this is after they came to the cabin that was clearly broken into and has that creepy room with dead cats that were part of some nasty ritual.  Then again, what should I have expected?  Mia and David apparently grew up coming to this creepy cabin isolated in the dark woods every summer as kids, and even worse, they have fond memories of the place.  Did the parents not hear about cottages on the lake?  What do kids do in a rundown cabin surrounded by rape trees?  This is a childhood that was in desperate need of a Nintendo to realize what actually is fun.

This is where some of you are screaming at the screen, and hoping I clue in that I'm missing the point of this picture.  What you really want to know is if it is littered with terrifying scares and has amazing special effects.  Let me start with the special effects.  They are actually pretty incredible.  As long as incredible also means an afternoon collecting road kill followed by staring at photos of real life murder scenes.  There is tons of gore and the amputations, nails puncturing skin and bone, needle going through an eye and other violent acts that look realistic and will likely make you cringe or possibly cheer with delight if you just finished digging up a corpse before seeing the film.

I'm not a prude or someone adverse to horror.  I love Stephen King and some of my favourite films are things like 1978's Halloween, Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, and other scary works.  I love Quentin Tarantino, so it isn't like blood is a turn off either.  But I like a scary movie to actually be. . . you know. .. scary.  I want the blood and guts to actually have a point.

If you want buckets upon buckets of blood and carnage then you'll likely be happy.  I got the sense this film was using it all to distract you.  It reminds me of a magic show where the magician doesn't have any new tricks or any real talent, so he tries to distract the audience by hiring four new big breasted assistants.  I personally would rather get a ticket to that magic show.

There is about 40 minutes where faces get sliced and bodies torn apart while the screen becomes more and more red.  It is just hiding the fact that the plot is generic, the charm is absent, you couldn't care less about the characters, none of the scares are fresh or original, and most of the scenes are just ripped out of the initial Evil Dead franchise.  If the characters scream loud enough and the blood squirts far enough then the hope is the audience misses the fact there isn't any substance here or any scares.

The problem is that the 40 minutes of carnage dulled and numbed me, and I was bored with what was being presented on the screen.  This is when they did the "fake ending" (come on, this isn't a spoiler, anyone who knows the word movie will know it is a swerve), and tried to end off with a thrilling and bone chilling finale.  Except I'd already mentally called it quits, and even if I could appreciate the attempt, it just felt like every other final survivor against the big baddie.  The moments of carnage and scares meant nothing because I'd already seen it for far too long, and I was just hoping those final credits would be creeping up real soon.

Fede Alvarez proves to be a talented director.  He showed moments of being able to set the mood, has some great cinematography and is excellent at framing the shots.  There are many signs of talented technical skill.  He was hampered by wanting to make his own movie while also servicing all the Deadites.  We got left with a schlock film that had a surprising lack of originality.  Hopefully, this is out of his system now, and his next film can be something that shows his real gifts.

Evil Dead is a horrifying film.  It just isn't in the way the producers and crew intended.

Star Rating: *

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