APRIL 5, 2013
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
"It's better than good - it's good ENOUGH."
That's a Community quote that I'm pretty sure I've used before in a review, but I'm not sure how well I explained how it applies to movies like Evil Dead. In the episode, it's used to describe a commercial that Abed put together for the school, which was less impressive than the epic that the Dean was trying to create, and thus the school board is happy. No one will be upset or challenged, it does exactly what it needed to do and nothing more, and you run the risk of coming off like a stuffy intellectual if you point out its very basic flaws. "Who cares? It gets the job done and that's all we need it to do."
See, it's not that Evil Dead is a BAD movie by any means, but I never got the idea that they were trying to be daring or inventive with the audience (the MPAA, on the other hand...), nor did I even get the impression that director Fede Alvarez (in his feature debut) was the sort of guy who would work on the film without sleep for days on end, sleep in the freezing cabin to make sure no one stole the equipment, or put his actors through any real danger in order to get his shot. Sam Raimi's original The Evil Dead is not just a terrific horror movie; it's a testament to the dedication a filmmaker can show on a single movie (if you haven't read the "Evil Dead Companion" book, I highly recommend it) and how much can be created out of nothing.
Obviously, that sort of thing isn't the case this time - Alvarez is backed by a major studio (Sony) and the guiding hands of not only Raimi, but his cohorts Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell. I'm sure limitations cropped up from time to time as they do on any feature, but it feels a bit like cheating to have this much at your disposal - he may get the same result, but without the elbow grease required for the spectators to sit back and say "Holy shit, he BROUGHT it!" (and with the original creators on board, it's almost like we're supposed to assume it's as good as it can be or something). And that's even worse when you consider how many unnecessary callbacks there are to the original film; yeah, of course you need the chainsaw in there, and I doubt anyone was surprised to see a hand get lopped off, but did they really need to bring back the tree rape? Or someone getting shot in the shoulder with the shotgun? Christ, at one point a character even seems to be playing "guess the card" by himself.
It also brings back the buckets of gore, which is easily the highlight of the movie and also pretty much the only reason to recommend it (even if you aren't impressed with its execution, it's almost just as satisfying if you imagine the censorship board having to watch it - and somehow giving it an R!). It's depressing as all hell to have to praise a horror movie for relying mainly on practical effects, but that's the sad reality - it was a breath of fresh air to see a modern film utilizing the same tricks that were available 30 years ago instead of their inferior "replacements". Original reports had the film at being 100% practical, but that's not really the case - it's somewhere in the 90s, though, which is good enough. A lot of them have an extra bit of nastiness to make them truly impressive, too; I particularly loved the arm hanging from a single tendon, and the way the piece of skin pulls along with a needle when it's removed from a person's face. Everyone goes through plenty of abuse to their person, with Lou Taylor Pucci getting the brunt of it - I actually felt sorry for the poor bastard after a while, as he started to make Bruce Campbell's abuse look pretty tame in comparison.
But that's also one of the movie's biggest problems - it almost seems to want the audience to guess who our new Ash is (whole next paragraph is potential spoiler to those who don't know how these movies play out, so skip it if you haven't seen the original. And go watch the original instead), when it's obvious that it's Jane Levy's character Mia... who disappears for the entire second act. There's a hefty attempt to make us think it will be David (Shiloh Fernandez), since he's the brother of the girl who got raped by a tree, but they split his "Ash-ness" with Eric (Pucci), who is the one to read the book and also (again) the one who gets the most abused. But it doesn't quite work, and by the time Mia finally takes over the hero role, we're already long past the point in the movie where they could afford to put any effort into making her someone interesting - she just becomes the hero because (spoiler, I guess) by now everyone else is dead, not because of anything she actually DOES. The two males are the proactive ones, which I found disappointing - I was hoping that the new one would let the girls kick a little more ass (one of the other girls does something pretty badass as a human; the other does something similar as a demon). But Levy only really does so in the final scare scene, and that's only after one of the males sacrifices himself to let her live. They were certainly wise to not try to cast a new Ash, but they SHOULD have retained a few of the others (Scotty, Cheryl, etc) to allow us to A. automatically assign some character to them, and B. let us be surprised by their deaths if they occurred in a different order. "Oh shit, Scotty is the first to go this time?" type plotting would have been beneficial, as opposed to these blank slates being offed more or less in the order you'd expect.
It also lacks any camaraderie or "quiet bits" that would endear them to us. The characters in the original were hardly the most developed in the world, but they had SOMETHING - Ash's cute little "fell asleep" gag when giving the necklace to his girlfriend, Scotty and Ash busting each others' balls in the basement, the dinner scene... nothing spectacular, but enough to give us some reason to care about them when the bad stuff started happen. Not so much here; I honestly can't tell you one thing about Elizabeth Blackmore's character beyond "she's David's fiance", and she's not even the first to go. And it's a modern horror movie, so of course they're all distant from each other and ready to bicker at the drop of a hat, though at least there's SOME rationale behind it - they were a close group until Mia's heroin addiction started to become a burden on all of them, resulting in their present day strife as they try to get Mia to quit ("Let's play cold turkey!" Mia sarcastically says, one of the thankfully few times where Diablo Cody's script punchups were obvious). Granted, we know they're all pretty likely to die, but it still seems unnecessarily mercenary to basically say "Why bother? They're goners!", and it's quite telling that one of the few complaints you could levy at the original (that the characters were one-dimensional for the most part) is not only retained here, but actually made worse.
The other thing that bugged me was the lack of momentum. There's an interesting idea early on, with the other characters assuming Mia's deranged behavior and claims of being raped by a tree are just the mother of all withdrawal symptoms, but almost as soon as they bring it up someone else is possessed anyway. And then it's all fits and starts; there will be an isolated (and terrific) bit of gore and violence, and absolutely nothing scary or exciting in between. The original was RELENTLESS, just tossing one thing after another at these poor bastards, not to mention offering an engaging energy that made up for its shortcomings, but here there's just filler - I found myself just waiting until the next "cool" bit arrived, and never once felt tense or scared in the slightest. I know it was just part of the remake-ness since the original had a similar tagline, but if you're going to put "The most terrifying film you will ever experience" in giant letters on all the posters, you should at least be able to get a rise out of guys like me (and a hefty number of horror-loving pals - it was someone's birthday - many of whom had the same "Yeah, it was fine." response I did). Even my wife didn't find much to scream or cover her eyes about, as she was during the damn TRAILER for The Conjuring.
So, again. "Good enough". It does exactly what was expected from it and nothing more, resulting in a film that will probably play well with the younger audiences who have a. never seen the original and b. are used to their R rated horror films being much more time. And perhaps Cabin in the Woods has deflated some of its appeal the way it was hard to take a straight slasher too seriously post-Scream (something they don't exactly try to make us forget - the book even claims that five souls are needed for whatever the villain wanted! So says the "scholar" to the "athlete"), so I'll cut it a little slack. But ultimately I just don't get why it was made (and produced by the original creative team to boot) - it's pretty much the exact same movie, albeit with even less interesting characters and practical effects work that no longer has the power to impress as much as it once did.
What say you?
P.S. I won't spoil the post-credits stinger, but I can tell you that if you're the type that likes the original a lot more than Army of Darkness, you should just beat the traffic.