There are days when being an registered critic can be odd. Don’t get me wrong, it’s mostly good times. I have yet to find that sweet, sweet zone where studios pay me off to give a good review – it apparently happens all the time according to commenters on the Internet – but I hold out hope. One day perhaps I will be big enough to be bought off. One day. Until then though, like most critics I exist mostly in a vacuum. Not entirely, but mostly.
There can be films you know nothing about beyond the general details, or there can be films where you’ve already heard a considerable amount. For Evil Dead, I fell somewhere in the middle.
I loved the original Sam Raimi films. The first Evil Dead was comically awful and I loved it for its terribleness. Its sequel/remake was even better, albeit in a different way. The first film was an amateur’s attempt at horror that inadvertently founded a subgenre, while the second was a professional’s approach to growing that genre. The third film, Army of Darkness, remains of my favorite films of all time. It’s a different type of film than the other two, far more comedy than horror, but it belongs with the series. I even have a 16” Ash from Army sitting on my desk as I type this. He protects me, even as my co-workers point and laugh. Once I get that sweet studio buy-off money they will learn.
So basically, I was excited about the new Evil Dead. I avoided early reviews, didn’t watch a single trailer after the first, and even stayed away from reading about set news like it was a baseball bat wielding monkey with Ebola. I did hear some general reactions from critics though, and it was almost universally positive.
Huzzah, I thought (I occasionally think in Renaissance Fair dialog – it’s a thing). I was thrilled by the press invite, and whisked my lovely fiancé off to the theater. Afterwards, I could see in her eye that she was considering throat chopping me. Buy the ticket, take the ride, I told her.
Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead seems to miss the point in every possible way. Technically, it is a solid film, and on that front Alvarez acquits himself well in his first full length film debut. It’s just everywhere else that the film stumbles upon. It is a simple film that relies on gore and nothing but gore. It wants to make you sick with imagery. It wants you to gag and be repulsed. It wants you watching through your fingers. If the gore doesn’t do it for you though, the rest of the film is just dull.
The film honors the original plot, while adding a few minor twists. Five friends head off into the woods, but rather than enjoying a weekend outing they are there to help Mia (Jane Levy) beat her drug addiction. Her absentee brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) is joined by his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), who may as well have just been called “blonde girl” for all that she brings to the film, nerd Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) – who you can tell is a nerd because he wears glasses – and the world’s most irresponsible nurse Olivia (Jessica Lucas) rounds out the cast.
They find the Necronomicon, read from it, and summon a horrible evil that wants to murder them, etc., etc.
It’s best that you generally don’t think too hard about the plot. Thinking about why a group of people would take a junkie going through withdrawals out into the woods to hang out at a run down and filthy cabin that no one bothered to check on first, or why they wouldn’t leave after the first few obvious warning signs is a loser’s bet. It’s best just to roll with it.
The plot is basically a wink and a nod to horror fans, as it is filled with familiar trope after trope. The characters are vapid and dull, but they fit admirably with the bland archetypes they represent – from the physically fit guy that could be the jock, to the hot blonde, to the nerd. They are shallow representations of horror movie clichés. If that sounds familiar, it should: the film is basically what Cabin in the Woods was making fun of. It’s also badly acted.
To be fair, there’s only so much an actor can do when they have blood vomited all over them, but none of the cast is particularly engaging or charismatic. They actually are more interesting after they die. Jane Levy fairs the best and generally has the meatiest part, while Blackmore’s Natalie may have had 10 lines in the entire film. There are entire sections that you’ll forget she is in the movie.
So what do you do with a film that has no real originality, a weak cast, and terrible characters? You dump gore on them. Lots and lots of gore.
To some, the gore is what will win them over. It is incredibly over-the-top, but not so much that it is comical. Some may consider it disturbing, but perhaps I am just desensitized. It is grotesque, but it is also thrown at you in such a way that you become numb to it. The gore is a crutch. And while some will be revolted and shocked at the imagery, the experience is entirely a visual one. There is no real sense of fear. The movie never even really bothers to try to scare you. It is lazy with its horror, and replaces it with buckets of blood and revolting displays.
If you take away the blood and gore, you are left with a boring film filled with characters you could care less about, spouting dull and cliché lines and consistently acting against their own best interests. Even as people ducked and covered their eyes to shield themselves from the mutilation, I wondered if I could get away with reading my book. It’s not as weird as it sounds – I brought an eBook. I would have been able to read it perfectly.
To top it all off, the film builds to a climax that is just plain dumb. It is meant to be the big payoff, but it just makes you wonder what the point of it all was to begin with.
This movie is the film Sam Raimi wanted to make back in 1981, but didn’t have the budget or skill. Instead he created something original. This film is anything but. It is one horror film cliché after another, but it doesn’t even have the decency to realize that what it is doing has been done so, so much better before.
The Evil Dead remake has one thing going for it that will appeal to a very particular group of fans – it is gory as hell. It’s one of the goriest films ever made. But it’s almost an entirely visceral experience. It basically says “here are some people, they are going to die horribly, let’s watch!” There’s literally nothing more to the film than that. If you are like me, and years of terrible and bloody movies have completely desensitized you to a possibly alarming degree, then you’ll find that all you are left with is a really boring film, filled with characters that you may occasionally wonder how they are going to die.
There will be those that see this film and think it a loving remake of the original, and the use of such familiar trappings are meant as an honor. It’s an homage to the genre, some will say, maybe. If you belong to that group, feel free to tee off on me in the comments below. I will, however, be forced to stand my ground, as this was the worst movie I have seen so far this year. At one point I thought I might doze off to the lulling sounds of mutilation, but my fiancé’s accusatory stare was the scariest thing in the film by far.