21 April 2013

Review: Evil Dead

(Dir: Fede Alvarez, 2013)
In some respects The Evil Dead is the epitome of 1980's horror. It was a labour of love for director Sam Raimi, shot on a shoe string budget over an extended period of time, whilst having to make use of cheap and innovative homemade special effects. The whole endeavor struck the right balance of tension, shocks, gore and subtle humour. Inevitably it looks somewhat dated now but it hasn't lost any of its power. Evil Dead 2 seems to frequently be cited in somewhat more reverential breath, but it straddles that awkward line of trying to be a comedy horror and those are two concepts that rarely work in tandem. The sequel maybe comes closest to proving they can work, but the balance is less easy than in the original, which has the honour of being one of the key titles in the eighties video nasty furore. But can it be improved upon? 
The argument for remakes stands as follows - was the original poor but had a good idea in there somewhere? Can an intriguing and satisfyingly different take on the original story be offered? Answer yes to one or both and you may have justified the validity of producing a remake. With Evil Dead the first question is obviously null and void, but the second? Well, this is the big question for the 2013 version. Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods to perform an intervention on the friend who's big on substance abuse. They discover the Necronomicon in a basement full of old witchery, some demons get summoned, there are possessions and... well, the story is much the same, following the same general formula and throwing in recognisable moments but in a slightly different manner. So is there a point?
One word - gore. Evil Dead 2013 takes The Evil Dead's violence and blood drenched mania and cranks it right up. This is a gorehounds dream. Gushing flumes of blood, dismemberment, self mutilation, nailguns and other similar implements for gouging, slicing and ripping all get their moment in the spotlight amongst the miasma of torn flesh. I can't think of any recent film to so gleefully revel in this. Notably all the special effects are claimed to be practical effects with no CGI used, which is a breathe of fresh air and a throwback to the spirit and feel of the original and its era (hell the original even employed stop motion effects). But as grim as it all sounds don't forget it's couched in the supernatural and slightly fantastical which happily ensures that tonally it never feels like it's veering into bleak, depressing "torture porn" territory.
Unfortunately gore is all the film appears to have going for it. Attempts at tension are less effective - it may not be entirely devoid of this, but it lacks the visionary ways the original plays with the isolation of the cabin or how creepy it feels when the camera takes on the persona of the evil watching through the windows. Some may argue differently about the tension, after all horror is truly subjective and I traditionally find it takes a lot to affect me, but it's worth mentioning that my viewing compatriot at times wondered why he was putting himself through this experience. A bigger issue is the cast and characters who are faceless and completely unmemorable, making rooting for their escape much harder. When you've got Bruce Campbell's Ash in the original series, who is one of the most memorable characters in horror, if you can't deliver anyone with even one tenth of his personality then what's the point? 
"What's the point?" pretty much sums up how I feel about Evil Dead. For director Fede Alvarez this also seems somewhat a labour of love and I suspect he had good intentions, but there's nothing about the actual story that improves on the original and it's biggest failing is absolutely the bland, boring casting. The over-the-top gore is expertly executed and fun to watch like it should be in a film like this, but if that's what Alvarez really wanted to deliver audiences then why not wrap it in something original? The recent remake of Maniac (read my review) effectively proved the point for offering an interesting different take on an existing story. Evil Dead 2013 shows that a lot more than copious buckets of blood are needed to justify a remake.

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