FRESH POUR: Evil Dead (2013)

Clint takes a look at two new releases that come out each week – no rules, no cocktail, just a short look at what’s being released in theaters.

(NOTE: I got the release dates wrong, and Trance isn’t coming to US theaters until next week; with that in mind, this week just has one review. Sorry, folks.)

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Evil Dead (2013) / dir. Fede Alvarez / TriStar Pictures

Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror debut The Evil Dead, despite being a somewhat spotty and amateurish effort that resulted in unintentional comedy, remains a wonderful early look at what would become the launching pad for an influential horror-comedy franchise and the careers of its director and lead actor Bruce Campbell. Nearly thirty years later, Fede Alvarez (in his feature film debut) remakes the time-old tale of teenagers visiting a cabin in the woods, only to find demonic horrors awaiting them. The result is an entertaining and bloody (if occasionally spotty and oddly paced) effort that’s well worth seeing in a crowded theater.

One of the biggest changes made to the original story is that the five friends in this one aren’t just heading to the cabin to hang out and party: their goal is to provide isolation and support during the detox of their friend Mia (Jane Levy, the only actor to give a truly good performance in the film – the rest are serviceable). In an economic way, this change removes many of the ‘no-duh’ moments from these kinds of horror films – they want to go where no one will find them so that their friend will be forced to detox completely, and they won’t let her leave so that she can potentially relapse. Mia is, of course, fated to become the possessed girl in the basement, and so scenes of her initial withdrawal (in which she freaks out, thrashes and cries out in panic) cinematically liken possession with addiction.

Despite the interesting change in the premise, however, the rest of the film’s emotional content is bogged down in poorly-written and tepidly played discussions of both Mia’s addiction and her checkered past with her distant brother David (Shiloh Fernandez). Suffice to say, the first half hour of the film attempts to set up these emotional conflicts, but these promptly fall by the wayside by the time the real horrors happen, making the conflicts seem like filler meant to keep us from the gore.

Another huge change, and one I’m still torn on as to its effectiveness, is the bait-and-switch of protagonists. The first half of the film follows Mia, in her attempts to kick her addiction, relate to David, and deal with the initial horrors before becoming possessed. Once she’s thrown in the basement, David becomes our Ash, complete with double-barreled shotgun and blue button-up shirt, and the film follows him for the majority of its escalating terrors. When his internal conflicts find their way into the flesh-ripping antics, though, it distracts more than enhances; you’ll shake your head at David’s almost comical hand-wringing about whether or not to take action against the demon possessing his friends and sister.

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

However, at a certain point 15 minutes before the film’s end, he is able to successfully revive Mia and make amends with her, right before sacrificing himself to destroy the cabin, leaving the newly-resurrected Mia to become the Final Girl for the big confrontation. While this bait and switch is interesting, it undercuts the emotional conflicts they attempt to set up in the film’s first half hour; the final sequence is incredible in its escalation of tension and gruesome visuals, but it feels somewhat unearned. After all, we gave up on her status as the main character ages ago, and the film had told  us its focus had shifted from Mia’s addiction to David’s guilt at his abandonment of his sister. To suddenly reassess this character as a tough survivor is somewhat jarring.

(END SPOILERS)

Regardless of the clunky and misdirected character moments, the film more than makes up for it with its primary attraction: the gore. Alvarez has a great eye for visuals, and he films the grand guignol spectacle in the same kind of stylish tradition Raimi nearly patented with his first Evil Dead; frantically swinging and tipping cameras abound, and the 100% practical gore effects are refreshing and visceral in an age of CGI blood splatters and bloody stumps. Blood pours down in rainstorms, limbs are removed with barely a scream, and characters act as human pincushions (especially Lou Taylor Pucci’s Eric; he really takes a beating in the film) – all of it adds up to an amazingly tense and engaging bit of horror architecture. Shots before the gore dazzle as well; there’s an inverted moving shot of a wood-bordered road that provides a macabre elegance to the beginning of the picture’s main story – a dazzling palate cleanser for the nightmares to follow. It’s about as thin as your typical horror film, when all is added up, but the gore is just so good that I don’t care; it completely understands why it exists, and completely delivers on its promises of horror spectacle. In this light, it succeeds in its modest goals.

Clint’s Verdict: Liked It

Related Episodes: Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Next week, Clint takes on the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 and finally, actually sees Danny Boyle’s Trance!

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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