The role of a horror movie fan often feels similar to that of an overly supportive parent: always quick to commend great effort, and quick to sweep any poor results under the rug so as not to be too disheartening. This proves endlessly frustrating, as genre film is the best mode one has for expressing the modern condition – take a look at horror movies from any given decade, the recurring patterns of whatever was being used to scare people in each era can prove enormously instructive – without giving the viewer the sense that they’re being bludgeoned with a moral cudgel. Give me the subversive commentary of a Dawn of the Dead over the sanctimonious moralizing of a Crash any day of the week. And director Fede Alvarez’s horror reboot Evil Dead comes tantalizingly close to realizing its potential as a work that backs up its shocks with thematic substance, but ultimately the film proves dead set on reminding you of what’s come before it instead of exciting you with something new.
The film starts promisingly enough with a variation on the cabin in the woods dynamic by having its young appealing leads head to this secluded destination not for a weekend of drunken bacchanalia, but instead to escape it; helping their friend Mia (Suburgatory’s Jane Leavy, incredibly game) go cold turkey from her drug addiction, giving her a safe environment to go through withdrawal. The idea of our characters attempting to ward off personal demons only to be confronted by those of the literal variety is an exciting one, unfortunately the psychology behind this film’s horror is as shallow as the film’s numerous graves. It is a staple of the horror film that its main characters sometimes act foolishly in order to set the plot in motion, but the illogical behaviors exhibited by our main characters throughout this film beggar belief. It takes the audience from caring about what’s at stake to laughing and cheering them onto their impending doom. The aforementioned Leavy makes the most of her chance to play a character whose role in the film is constantly shifting and remains thoroughly engaging throughout. The rest of the cast doesn’t distinguish itself, save for Lou Taylor Pucci who proves to be adept at taking an unholy amount of punishment as the film progresses.
As a horror fan, however, I can’t deny the film its visceral delights. Alvarez eschews the modern trend of wholly computer generated violence (which has the unintended effect of pulling one out of intense sequences designed to draw you in) and gifts fans practical FX work with some of the best examples of it in modern memory. Only a very specific type of film fan is going to get excited by my assurances that the limb-severing, blood-letting and body-vivisecting on display is handled with artistry we haven’t seen in ages, but that specific fan (aka me) will be over the moon as to the level of care given to death and dismemberment by Alvarez and company.
I just wish this effort was in the service of an attempt at reinvigorating the genre. Despite my unabashed love for Sam Raimi’s original (and its tonally bonkers sequels), I held no reservations toward the premise being rejiggered for a modern audience. After all, it wasn’t the originality of the plot that makes The Evil Dead from ’81 still work today, it was the visual flair and verve Raimi unleashed on audiences that brought all of those hoary conventions roaring to bloody life. Certainly it would be foolhardy for any filmmaker to try and replicate what came before it, right? Perhaps a small tip of the cap for eagle-eyed fans (say, a moldering yet still recognizable car left out to pasture behind the cabin for example) and then the film could go on its merry way and forge its own memorable sequences and characters using the basic mythology of the original.
Unfortunately those little winks and nudges towards the original feel more like theatrical throat-clearing and sharp jabs to the ribcage as the film progresses, impossible to ignore and only serving to remind you of the great film this one ostensibly should be trying to make you forget. And even though the film rights the course during its final showdown and almost manages the herculean feat of bringing back some of the thematic substance abandoned over an hour prior it still feels like too little, too late. This is unfortunate, as Alvarez proves able to wreak stomach-churning havoc on this group of characters and generate genuinely memorable imagery, but leaves you only admiring the artistry behind Evil Dead’s arterial geysers instead of making you care who the blood is being wrung from. And while that’s more than enough for me to highly recommend the film to fellow fans of Fangoria, it leaves me wishing there was a little bit more that could’ve elevated beyond its genre trappings.
Stars: Jane Leavy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Written by: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, Diablo Cody
Produced by: Bruce Campbell, Joseph Drake, Maya Fukuzawa, Nathan Kahane, Sam Raimi, Peter Schlessel and Robert G. Tapert
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Budget: $16 million
Release Date: April 5, 2013