What You’ll Like:
- Surprisingly impressive camera work and cinematography
- Good amount of genuinely creepy looking scenes
- Extremely scarce (if any) use of CGI keeps things shockingly real
- A pleasingly creative reimagining of the original storyline
What You May Not:
- Secondary actors are fairly thin and unmemorable
- Some portions of acting do not correlate right with circumstances
- Fundamental story palette is still a cliché one
- Signature trailer “We’re gonna get you” line isn’t there! What the hell??
What You’ll Remember:
- Oh man, the splatter, splatter, splatter…
“The most terrifying movie you will ever experience” was the main theatrical advertising tag for this 2013 reimagining of the 1981 original Sam Raimi B-movie style cult classic, and granted its over-abundant levels of demonic imagery, explicit gore, nauseatingly realistic dismemberment, and ambitiously creative cinematography and sleek camera work, young up and coming unknown Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez can rightfully state that his view of a film many original Evil Dead fans never wanted made may in fact sit rightfully justified amongst its forefather film. Renamed without the “The” in the title, Evil Dead does plenty to work off many of the staples that made the original such a memorably obnoxious and over-the-top exaggeration of horror films (or as original star Bruce Campbell puts it, “collection of bad ideas put in a blender”), it also contains its very own mind, wit, and series of epically dark and imaginative strengths which do much favor to set it apart as its own gut-wrenching entity, even if a long ways down the road people will still only think of the character of Ash and the former whenever the film known as Evil Dead comes up in conversation.
Evil Dead at its fundamental level basically shares the same palette as the original – bare and crumbling old cabin in the middle of some desolate woods, group of college-age young people unknowingly unleash a deadly demonic force via Book of the Dead, group becomes fair game for death by invisible demonic forces, open season to as many buckets of splatter as the film budget will allow. Whereas in the original we had four young people consisting of two couples on a leisure trip weekend at an old cabin, led by Bruce Campbell playing the lead as Ash, here we have five similarly aged victims who purposefully go to a desolate area not for pleasure but in the hopes of aiding their former drug addict friend Mia, played by Jane Levy (Suburgatory, Shameless), who decides to leave her addiction cold turkey. Since Mia has OD’d previously and may not make it through another alive, the group decides that no matter what the circumstances, they won’t leave the cabin, no matter how badly her cravings and tendencies for relapses become. Rounding off the cast is Mia’s older and near estranged brother and everyman guy David (Shiloh Hernandez), high school teacher and historics geek Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), loving BFF and medically trained Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and David’s love interest and sweet sheltered blonde Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).
Upon opening, there is finally some backstory given to the origins of the mysterious Book of the Dead (or at least how it used to be used, not sure if we’ll ever know why it exists and who originally wrote it), as well as some very unorthodox horrifics that went on in the very basement of the old deserted cabin; backstory that display both why the book holds just as much power to do good as it does to conjure evil. Fast forward to the present day where our five unknowing and graciously unimpressive college kids take a brief residence in the old shack to embark on their mission to save who will soon become our partial “Ash” for this reimagining. The reasoning behind why this group is (thankfully) not immediately impressive is part of what sets this new film not only apart from its predecessor, but also why it can demand a mature and respective audience – because while the 81′ classic was fast-paced despite its cheese and comedic factor due to its lower budget and insane ideas relevant for its time, the new Dead lacks such a fervent and mischievous sense of self-aware humor; although to its credit, the original was only held such a tongue-in-cheek tone due to its lack of financial resources and time, given it came at a time when there wasn’t much to be self-aware about. Alvarez’s Dead’s tone is dark, serious, brooding, and as intelligent as such a fantastically evil screenplay subject matter can be. In fact, there is not even an uttered attempt at humor throughout its entire running time. Starring a cast of mostly average looking young people, in the hopes of keeping our attention on the content instead of fleshy body parts and pretty faces, its really only our main two who shine, while the three extras, Olivia, Natalie, and Eric, are somewhat akin to stand-in cutouts during their character introductions, it is not until their clashing with the forces of evil that their best material comes forth, even if some of it can lose its audience in the moment considering at times the character reactions are underacted for some otherwise very painful situations they find themselves experiencing. In other words, it wouldn’t have hurt us to see more uninhibited projections in some of their own reactions. I don’t know about you, but if yours grinch truly’s arm were being torn off from under a heavy car, I would probably scream a hell of a lot more. While such moments are few, they still come off as noticeable, but thankfully these scenes temporarily taking us out are scarce.
Getting back to the story, the two young males leading the group soon discover a hidden basement door exactly as that of the original film, only this time they take the opportunity to explore it, running into a very grisly scene beneath the cabin that has been spreading a rancid stench throughout of the last day; a smell so putrid that for whatever reason Mia has been the only one noticing, which as the person in remission, makes anything she says hard to believe. It is at this point downstairs where the our male protagonists discover the book from hell, and it is taken into the care of Eric, who as you guessed ignorantly unleashes the forces of hell upon the group by audibly speaking out three old Latin words from an ancient prayer. The pacing in this entire setup is rather quick, but even with the limited time for our character introductions, Alvarez quickly makes a name for himself for his very attentive care towards what seems like each and every scene; establishing shots, off-beat zooming angles, some beautiful balance of lighting and character positioning – it all works to subconsciously involve the viewer in not only presenting itself as a work of horror art of sorts, but also establishing this as a film to be viewed as not even a “remake,” but an entire reimagining, ensuring its audience they are in for an entirely new experience. From here on in the actors complement the movie well enough, but it is Jane’s portrayal of Mia that is the true show stopper. There is a committed passion in each and every one of her scenes, and given Alvarez’s great eye for proper character placement and lighting effects (which alone can make or break any horror film), do make for some of the creepiest scenes in all the world of a genre that can tend to depend too much on cheap jump scares and scary children. Sure, while many of the more experienced horror genre viewers may not be as immediately creeped out, there is no denying the talent behind the camera lens. These same fans of the original Dead will notice many shots and scenes both inspired and emulated from it, but even so still containing their own unique look and feel, so thankfully never at any point does the film feel like a cheap rip-off, but one that can stand out on its own, while in its midst perhaps even causing some to forget the original entirely. This is not to even mention the bread and butter of Dead, that being its vivacious and near fetishist obsession with creating a gory unapologetic bloodbath unlike anything else in the industry. The situations these poor young and well-meaning saps find themselves in are in themselves so over-the-top it’s almost chuckle-inducing, albeit negating the amount of viewers who will quickly turn their eyes away in shock and disgust. While the original film tried its best to create the most intense bloodbath of its time, it couldn’t help but come off as what is now see as unapologetically campy simply due to its budget; but now in 2013 the sky is the limit in realism and ease at whichever sadistic ideas the writers could come up with. Granted its much more generous budget, the new Dead death counts never come off as a joke, most especially and very very thankfully implemented idea of Alvarez’s to not have any CGI work whatsoever in order to maintain the level of churning realism. While a few scenes, both in deaths and story, had to be reimagined in their own way from the original, the writers seemed to still inject so much originality in them that they almost don’t feel as if they had to be inspired by anything that preceded it. Taking for example the character of Mia, who many reviewers regard as this film’s female version of “Ash,” is not only the main character but also falls victim to a few circumstances that Bruce Campbell’s Ash never did, and at about the halfway point we soon see that both her and her brother David share this starring role, both emulating the character of Ash in their own ways. Hence, there is no single main protagonist here, only adding to the clever ways Dead rewrites the original for the sake of keeping things fresh and interesting.
Yet throughout this non-stop intense rollercoaster and crimson splattery the viewer may be taking all the action in, there seems a feeling throughout that the film just is not jumping out as much as it seems it should be; it grabs your eyes and tickles your mind but never seems to really thrust for the heart. While the film never becomes boring or has any significantly lagging moments of drag, in the end Dead still holds the same story palette that’s just been done too many times before in the past 30 years since the original to come off as anything incredibly original, or as engrossing as many newer story ideas of modernized horror ventures. Past films such as Cabin Fever, A Cabin in the Woods, 28 Days Later, The Day, or really anything fairly recent featuring a desolate cabin of some sort, all have done this fundamental story environment to death, because with a group of people trapped in a small cabin in the middle of nowhere, there is only so much you can really do. The results here being that while this environmental setting features lots of eye-popping popcorn bloody mayhem, those features cannot escape the fact that the setting and story palette have just been outgrown. Now while this is no real fault of the film itself, as of course you cannot change the setting for a remake, it feels like more of a minor unnecessary evil that must be realized and purposefully looked past in order to get as much out of Dead as possible. Therefore it’s a good thing Alvarez had such an eye for detail to present us with something coming off much more like a remake and not a rehash. Despite its basic palette Dead still has enough to suck the viewer into its brooding sadistic mindset, and by its climax one really can’t help but begin cheering for Mia, especially when she gets her bloody hands on Ash’s former signature weapon of choice; though such throwbacks will definitely be better appreciated by hardcore fans than casual viewers.
Besides your expected commentary tracks, we get a small handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes, all running between 7 and 9 minutes, featuring interviews with the cast and crew (including Bruce Campbell), as well as some script reading sessions. All serve for some mildly interesting insight, but the one that really stands out is the one entitled “Being Mia” and is a 9-minute doc-style shaky cam look into one day on the set following Jane Levy herself. Here we see her in the trailer during make-up, then filming portions of one particular scene, as well as her clean up afterwards. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on the Best Buy exclusive version with the extra bonus DVD disc, you get a total of 25 minutes of extra features, half being a one-on-one interview with Bruce Campbell, and the second half being what the regular Blu-ray should have had – a featurette on the special effects themselves, and how the filmmakers put together a few that would perhaps have had viewers scratching their heads given nothing was left to computer effects. A decent bunch overall but nothing that gives us the amount of insight fans would definitely have wanted.
Graphics and Sound:
Visually Dead is mostly an absolute pleasure. Since most viewer’s preferred picture option tends to be the ones with the most dynamic colors, the HD transfer, at least for about the first three quarters, does not have any of that irritating distortion many others do. The first act featuring more daytime outdoor shots are beautifully well detailed, with a gentle and impressive use of cinematography that complements such great picture quality. Once things begin to get more intense, the movie moves into darker territory, and thankfully for the most part the film these blacks are handled very well, with virtually zero distortion… that is until later in the film where this layered fuzz starts to appear. The issue isn’t anything that can’t be remedied by adjusting your screen settings though, and Dead‘s picture can still be enjoyed just as much with the settings altered a bit. On the sound side of things, the transfer is just as impressive. Volume may have to be turned up just a tad in order to get all you can out of the first act’s quieter scenes, but for the most part the soundtrack music and dialogue are perfectly clear. During the film’s more climactic scenes, intensifying music tracks, screams, gunshots, and other effects stay at a great balance while at the same time all being fully audible and impressive. No significant issues at all in the sound department.
Original Evil Dead fanatics will easily get more out of this reimagining than casual viewers will, as many of the remade scenes and adjustments to the plot are tweaked to not just make things more believable, but are simply better, aiding to further develop the characters, situations, as well as making the film more relevant to a modern audience that simply has outgrown a camp factor to the likes of what we used to enjoy back in the 80s. Alvarez’s eye for visual art and color palettes which help accentuate the film’s isolated and even at times, somber and depressive tonality, and even the dark and macabre chaos bring us one of the most epic displays of grantacular gorefests this movie generation has ever seen. While it’s basic and now overused setting can only do so much to suck audiences in, the cast still tries hard despite not being the most talented actors in the world; due to the demands of such a humorless and serious endeavor there must be a limited amount of lightheartedness, if any, that the creators can allow. Evil Dead does do a great amount to give its audience a good time, but though its plusses are greatly appreciated, a film with such an extreme nature may do lots to deter a modern audience who have become so accustomed to a more PG-13 style of psychological horror, thus why it is a great point to state that this is a film more to the liking of hardcore horror and Sam Raimi The Evil Dead fans. The reimagining does much but still a bit too little to give itself a personality outside of grossing out its audience as much as possible; it’s got lots of enhanced story, but a style so still over-the-top that it makes the story elements a secondary thought, where it really should be the other way around. I would say 2.5 severed arms out of 4 for casual movie fans, but an easy 3 out of 4 for more hardcore ones.