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Tony’s Review of “Evil Dead”

(Image Credit: TriStar Pictures)

Another remake?  Yes, Hollywood has been out of original ideas for quite some time.  However, “Evil Dead” takes the idea of a remake and does it the way it should, taking as little of the source material as necessary, and coming up with a new twist to make the new film a unique experience for the audience, both those new to the story and fans of the original.

The first thing that may throw a lot of people is that there’s no humor in this movie.  For many, the “Evil Dead” franchise is equated to goofy horror-comedy, after the films “Evil Dead 2” and “Army of Darkness”.  However, the original Sam Raimi classic, “The Evil Dead”, was not designed as a humorous film.  It was meant to be a straight horror film, which it succeeded in being, but the low budget lead to a campy feel that is now looked upon as funny.  22 years later we have a remake that goes back to the basic, and terrifying, idea of five people in a remote cabin where true evil is unleashed.

The film opens with a taste of the evil to come, with a father having to resort to drastic measures to ensure the eternal rest of his possessed daughter’s soul.  After the opening credits we are introduced to David and his girlfriend Natalie, arriving at David’s family’s cabin.  After a brief introduction to David’s old friends Olivia and Eric, its revealed that they are all there to help David’s sister Mia quit drugs cold turkey.  After a ceremonious dropping of drugs into the well, everyone bunks up for a weekend helping Mia through withdrawals.  While Mia begins feeling the harsh effects of quitting cold turkey, Olivia informs David that Mia tried to quit cold turkey the previous year, only to bail on the attempt and later overdose.  Now, Olivia and Eric plan to keep Mia there are all costs to make sure she quits.  Mia begins to complain of a rancid smell that no one else can detect, except the old family dog who uncovers a blood-covered trap door to the cellar.  When they get under the house they find a room with many dead cats strung up, and a package wrapped in a trash bag and barbed wire.  While everyone else is either cleaning out the dead cats or helping Mia calm down, Eric’s curiosity gets the better of him and he opens the barbed wire package to find the Necronomicon, a book bound in human skin containing warnings to not read the contents of the book.  Eric uncovers and reads scratched out passages that causes an evil spirit to rise and possess Mia.  Initially, the others chalk up Mia’s odd behavior to her withdrawals, but when it begins to pass along to the others one-by-one, they realize there’s something more going on.

This movie had a great deal of hype leading up to its release, with its high-profile red band trailers showing a level of gore not seen in recent horror films.  Instead of relying on the highly criticized use of CGI blood and gore effects, “Evil Dead” went old-school with a primary use of practical effects, something that pays off well.  When a film uses CGI for gore effects, it can take the audience out of the story by looking obviously fake.  But the use of live and practical effects for such scenes, like the splitting of a characters tongue or the removal of a needle from someone’s eye, helps to maintain a level of realism in a completely outlandish story.  Even the use of references from the original films is done in such a way that perfectly fits with the story.  The audience is given glimpses of iconic items like the electric carving knife and the chainsaw, but they pay off later in ways that fits into the story instead of just being a reference for reference sake.  The only reference that seemed forced came at the end of the film, and was only done to put our hero into the same physical situation as Bruce Campbell in the originals.  Speaking of our hero, another great move of this film was the uncertainty of just who would end up being the hero, with the reveal being a pleasant outcome and completely dissimilar to the originals.

There’s only two problems I had with this movie: my expectations were too high and “Cabin in the Woods” kind of killed the genre.  After the amazing lead up with the red band trailers and clips released online, I had high hopes for this movie.  I was looking forward to the classic live effects, as well as a truly creepy movie experience.  And while the effects delivered, I was never truly scared during the course of the film.  My wife was completely creeped out and held on to my arm like her life depended on it, but I never felt the fear and discomfort I did with a movie like “The Exorcist”.  Perhaps this is because of the movie “Cabin in the Woods”, a brilliant deconstruction of the horror genre from Drew Goddard, the writer of “Cloverfield”, and Joss Whedon, the director of “The Avengers”.  After seeing a film that perfectly breaks down and explains the major points of the genre, the effect of the other films is greatly lessened.  Once you see the man behind the curtain, you don’t fear the Great and Powerful Oz anymore.

Aside from my stated disappointment with the movie, the only major failure was the cast.  Jane Levy as the drug addict turned possessed victim Mia steals the movie.  As the possession takes a greater hold of Mia, Levy’s performance just gets better and better.  But beyond Levy, the rest of the cast is just rather bland.  Lou Taylor Pucci has a few standout moments as Eric, being the one who unwittingly unleashes the major evil and is the one who figures out what is going on, but he doesn’t do enough to stand up to Levy’s presence.  The rest of the cast is just there and unimpressive, either by lack of acting ability or lack of proper writing.  Elizabeth Blackmore as Natalie is given so very little to do prior to her possession that she seems like a wasted character, only there to be one of the five souls the evil needs in order to rise.

When I first left the theater, I felt disappointed in the film, even telling my friends that a gave it “an enthusiastic ‘Meh’.”  But the more I talked about it with my wife, the more she made me realize my problems weren’t with the movie, but my own expectations.  Just because I wasn’t scared out of my mind watching the movie doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful in what it set out to be.  Though the cast was primarily disappointing, Levy’s performance was well worth the price of admission.  The effects were as great as expected, and the ties to the original series felt serious and natural, and never like a gratuitous referential wink to the audience.  Overall and in hindsight, I was greatly pleased with the movie and look forward to adding the Blu-ray to my collection.

In honor of the passing of an iconic man, I give “Evil Dead” a Thumbs Up!

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