Movie Review: Evil Dead
By Matthew Huntley
April 15, 2013
Evil Dead is one of those horror movies that’s sick, twisted, bloody and gory all for the sake of being so. It’s unabashedly horrific and gruesome because the filmmakers know there are die-hard fans out there who crave this sort of thing, and for them, the ghastlier the better. I don’t happen to be one of those fans, but I can appreciate good craft when I see it, and Evil Dead, a remake of the Sam Raimi-directed cult classic from 1981, is arguably crafty…to a degree. It’s good at doing what it sets out to do, which is to make the audience squirm and turn their heads away in disgust, but it doesn’t go beyond that, which is what I was hoping for. Alas, at the end of the day, it remains just another “one of those horror movies” instead of becoming more distinct and inspired.
The plot finds five 20-somethings convening at a dilapidated cabin in the woods, which is strike one against these people, because anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie knows that the odds of surviving a weekend in a run-down cabin in the woods are next to nothing (just see Cabin in the Woods). But then, they don’t gather here for the standard horror movie reasons, which is usually to get drunk, take drugs and get laid. In somewhat of an ironic twist, they’re here to detoxify their friend Mia (Jane Levy), who vows to beat her dope addiction and endure the inevitable withdrawal symptoms. Offering their support are Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and Mia’s friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas).
The cabin has apparently been in Mia and David’s family for quite some time and used to be a routine hangout spot for this same group (you can tell by all the recent photographs hanging on the wall), although it looks like it hasn’t been lived in for years. It’s been so long, in fact, that nobody was around to pick up on the pungent scent coming from the basement, where a bunch of dead animals hang from the ceiling. They’re also unaware of the supposed witchcraft that took place and how, years ago, a weeping father had no choice but to burn his daughter alive at the stake and blast her head with a shotgun in order to save her soul. She was the latest victim to be possessed by the demon that inhabits the woods and lives underneath the cabin. We learn this devilish hellion re-emerges whenever someone recites prayers from the Book of the Dead, manifesting itself in unsuspecting humans and wreaking havoc for no other reason than it’s evil.
And of course a character in this movie is dumb enough to recite such prayers, despite the cursed book being wrapped up in barbed wire and covered in messages that pretty much say, “Stay the hell away from this book!” Here’s my question (and it’s an obvious one): why didn’t the previous readers of the book simply bury it? Or at least hide it? Why leave it out in plain sight? Were they not aware of the inquisitive nature of human beings, especially dumb human beings, who would for sure read from it again?
I know: the book has to be opened and read from in order for there to be a movie, but couldn’t the screenplay at least make an effort to provide us smart, plausible characters with whom we could identify? Like so many horror movies, this one is populated with young people who have no personalities or credibility, and that made the beginning of the movie rather tough to endure. I remember thinking, here we go again, another stupid, lackadaisical horror movie where the characters are simply killed off one by one, each in a way more horrible than the last.
But I admit, once the demonic possessions took shape, the movie picked up steam and I found myself admiring the filmmakers’ use of special effects, makeup and disturbing imagery to induce fear and uneasiness into the audience. A movie like this is not for the squeamish, but to its credit, we can appreciate why it’s not. It utilizes its resources, be they practical or digital, in ways that make it effectively gross and scary.
Another thing I recognized is the movie doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. At no point does it try to be funny, ironic or falsely dramatic. Evil Dead is pure, straight-up horror that lives up to its name, and even though it’s a far cry from being substantive or original, it’s a classic example of its genre that loyal fans are likely to enjoy. But given that it doesn’t transcend its cinematic category or others of its kind, not to mention Raimi’s film already accomplished the same thing, this remake, like so many, is ultimately unnecessary.