Evil Dead (2013) *1/2
Dir. Fede Alvarez
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Lou Taylor Pucci
Review By Greg Klymkiw
The remake of Sam Raimi's chilling 1981 horror classic merits the distinction of being the best directed loathsome piece of crap made in a decade or so. Fede Alvarez, who delivered a handful of exceptional shorts, makes his feature debut here. It's easy to see why the producers (Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell) hand-picked him to helm a new stab at the baby that put all of them on the map in the first place. It's clear Alvarez has flair and knows where to put the camera for maximum shock impact.
What he lacks (or at least what the script lacks) is anything resembling a sense of humour. I'm not talking about the direction the humour took in Raimi's own sequels Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn and Army of Darkness (Hitchock by way of Warner's Looney Tunes), but rather the grotesque, brutal and viciously black humour that made Raimi's original such a brilliant, subversive and relentlessly terrifying (and sickening) experience.
No, in spite of having Diablo Cody, the glorified sit-com writer of (UGH!) Juno as his co-scribe, Alvarez's picture hasn't a single laugh. Worst of all, aside from several virtuoso shock set-pieces, the remake is also not that scary. It's all surface. None of the scares seem to emanate from the pit of some truly dangerous, malevolent and sadistic place.
The Evil Dead remake commits the most unpardonable sin - it's a lightweight.
The plot (such as it is and always was) remains pretty much intact. Five young people go to a cabin in the woods and unwittingly unleash demons from hell. The big difference is that the kids in the original were all party-hearty hoser-types. Here, they're weighted down by the drudgery of deep, dark secrets from the past and their motive is to get one of their group to detox off heavy drugs. Worse yet, is a hackneyed pre-credit sequence which tries to pathetically set up a back story to the proceedings. This is such a boneheaded move that I'm still agog that anyone felt it was necessary to so clumsily explain why the cabin is haunted. The original needed no such nonsense. The deeper our characters got into the backwoods, the creepier it became.
The detox angle is not a bad one, but it's never fully exploited and explored for the kind of oomph that drug addiction and the genuine horror of drying out amidst an attack from fucking hell demons could have brought to bear. What we're left with is the angst-ridden past of the central characters.
This, alas, is a total bore.
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It doesn't help that the cast of the remake is completely and utterly bland. The performances are stalwartly professional, but missing are the genuinely cool looks of the actors in Raimi's film. The babes were babes, but they seemed like girls next door instead of bubble-brained contemporary ingenues and the men lack the kooky macho spin delivered in the 1981 version.
And, for a moment, let us consider the rape scene involving branches coming to life in the forest. The original rape scene was so down, dirty and wholly unexpected that it was not just repulsive, but because it was imbued with Raimi's combination of voyeurism and black humour streak that it provided a mixture of uneasy laughs with the scares. There was something subversively sickening about this - and brilliantly so. Here, the branch rape is merely gross and unpleasant. As such, it feels far more exploitative than probably intended.
One of the things that helped, rather than hindered Raimi's original is that it was shot on a shoestring budget and fuelled by the added desperation of Raimi and star Bruce Campbell out on a financial limb throughout the process - Raimi using credit cards an Campbell mortgaging his parents' house. Better yet, the film was shot on glorious 16mm and had to be blown up to 35mm. The process not only added a grotty grain to the visuals, but the film dichotomously looked like it had been processed in chemicals laced with swamp water and toxic waste, but had special visual effects and astounding compositions and camera movement that would have been more at home in a much bigger budgeted film. There was a perverse documentary realism to the movie's look that made it additionally terrifying.
The remake is slick, expensive and completely without soul. Granted, the filmmakers probably wanted a fresh spin on an old cycle, but they might have been much better off taking a cue from the original and tossing the whole lot into a washing machine armed with grey water and generic soap suds rather than fresh, crystal clear spring water and a box of Tide Ultra-Bold.
"Evil Dead" is currently in wide release internationally. Do yourself a favour, save some dough and just buy the original Sam Raimi pictures on Blu-Ray.