18 April 2013

Movie Review: The Evil Dead (2013)



B+

The Evil Dead 
2013, 91mins, 18
Director: Fede Alvarez 
Writer (s): Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, Diablo Cody, Sam Raimi (1981 screenplay "Evil Dead") 
Cast includes: Shiloh Fernandez, Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore 
UK Release Date: 18th April 2013

It’s become an unavoidable but forcibly tiresome process seeing the horror classics of old retooled for 21st Century audiences, the attraction of watching hacks desecrate icons of the past with vacuous visual polish and tone-deaf tedium not one I’m inclined toward. There have been a few bright spots (the last major one being 2011’s flamboyant “Fright Night”), but generally these rehashes sully the memory of horror cinema’s legacy, running legendary fiends like Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger into suffocating tombs of cinematic incompetency. 1981’s “The Evil Dead” certainly wasn’t screaming out for a makeover, to this day it retains the ability to impress and terrify with mischievous relish, but having original director Sam Raimi on-board as a producer for this 2013 remake provided a spark of hope. Against all odds “The Evil Dead” is a kinetic and relentlessly entertaining horror joyride, capturing the spirit of its predecessor without much hassle, whilst confidently peppering proceedings with a few neat tricks of its own. Incoming director Fede Alvarez keeps the momentum cracking and the blood spouting at geyser-rate, but thankfully this creepshow is more than a mere pageant for dismemberment and possession. It kind of has a soul folks.


Mia (Jane Levy) has been having severe drug-problems since the passing of her mother, so much so that a group of friends led by sibling David (Shiloh Fernandez) decide to stage an intervention at an isolated cabin from their youth. Arriving, they find the property in ramshackle condition, but more worryingly they uncover indications of supernatural devilry, including an eerie book filled with warnings and bizarre incantations. As Mia struggles with the delirium and stress of going cold turkey, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) examines the ancient text, unwittingly unleashing a nasty demon in the process. It quickly takes control of a delicate Mia, forcing her into acts of violence and aggression against her friends. As the night moves on and the danger deepens, it becomes increasingly obvious the only way to defeat the ghoul is through disposing of Mia and any others wounded by its toxic grasp.

“The Evil Dead” has a little more going on narratively in 2013 than back in 1981, a touch that hasn’t served the remake fad particularly well. It’s become common practise for film-makers to revise these once frightening tales with an unnecessarily probing hand, a sort of sympathy for the devil angle which drains the life from the haunting protagonists. Fortunately the additions made here are more measured, Mia’s quest for sobriety bringing an extra element of complexity to the piece, setting a dour mood from the getaway and fuelling some legitimately weighty character interactions. The young cast (aside from an outstanding Levy) do a pretty perfunctory job in their various parts, but the screenplay at least allows them to think with human emotion and act with believable panic. Some of the scenes between Fernandez and Levy are particularly stirring, forging a relationship built on abandonment, mistrust and a burning quest for interior redemption. Their pursuit of a clean conscience is a nice mirror to the purification of the demon threat attempted later in the picture, the spirit acting as a strong metaphor for narcotics and guilt in equal measure. “The Evil Dead” is a movie that thematically examines the notion of absolution from past sin, something which separates it from Raimi’s less densely arranged cavalcade of scares.

Technically the feature is a wonder, armed with gory special effects and moments of cringe-inducing pain, it’s not hard to understand why the film had some censorship issues with the MPAA earlier this year. Alvarez doesn’t pull a single punch, consistently pumping up the tension before unleashing a suitably horrible moment of torture or destruction. Blood squirts with almost unstoppable abandon once the expository stuff is dealt with, the film-maker even going so far as to mimic a few infamous sequences from the original trilogy of movies. What’s surprising is to register how disturbing Alvarez’s recreations are, one moment involving a tree (the initiated won’t need any further clues) is burningly intense, and conducted with the unflinching eye of a director who wants his audience to squirm. It’s deeply unsettling, but in the best way possible, as too are the various acts of vicious violence that define the rest of the picture. It’s a visually hostile creation, but one that powers forward with cracking immediacy, never allowing viewers to slow up and fully adjust to the harsh brutality being served up.

Leaving aside the very first scene, the film doesn’t flirt with CGI too much, leaving practical gore and fearsome make-up to make a remarkable splash. Stylistic choices such as this coupled with the film’s tangible human core actually gift “The Evil Dead” with a certifiable identity, a facet most horror remakes lack with almost deliberate ignorance. It helps that Alvarez understands the importance of atmospheric cinematography, suggestive sound-design and bombastic musical accompaniment (the score by Roque Banos compliments the savage imagery marvellously), but chiefly I’m thankful the film-maker exhibits a set of massive balls. There aren’t many mainstream horror flicks that would even attempt to get away with the crimson soaked theatre of horror depicted here, but to actually deliver it with such bravura is another thing entirely. “The Evil Dead” is courageous Hollywood cinema and a rare pleasure for genre fans on the prowl for something with a bit of edge.

Of course comparisons to the original and its sequels will be rife, a battle which no remake can really hope to win. However I imagine that Raimi invests his involvement here with a sizeable amount of pride, this new creation delivering thrills, spills and a catalogue of physical horror very much in his own spirit. For me, that’s more than enough reason to recommend it.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

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