Evil Dead (2013)

Horror remakes are not generally well-liked. I realize that’s about as obvious an observation as noting that some people aren’t terribly fond of puppy-killing, but it’s true all the same. And if you ask most viewers what their problem with these films are, mostly likely the answer will contain the word “PG-13”. People can’t stand to see their favorite horror movies watered down. “It’s not scary if you limit yourself, if you’re not willing to go there” is the general sentiment. Fans of the originals want to see all of the blood-splattering and graphic carnage that so affected them the first time around, and are confident that horror remakes’ consistent refusal to do so is the reason for their failure as films.

Evil Dead is proof that they were wrong. The gore was never the problem.

In point of fact, if you point to any aesthetic issues with a film as a reason for its awfulness, you’re almost always going to be off the mark. Surface issues like bad action, dialogue, acting, set and costume design, camerawork, etc. are just symptoms, not the disease. Battlefield Earth was not bad because it had too many Dutch angles or the costumes were goofy looking. It was bad because it was a sloppily put together vanity project. And in the case of remakes, the core problem is usually a lack of purpose. Tip for future filmmakers: When faced with a remake, the first thing you must do is ask yourself this question: Who are you making this film for? Fans of the original, or everyone else? The answer to that question should guide every decision you make on the film. If you try to cater to both audiences, you will end up catering to neither.

And unfortunately, it’s a question that director Fede Alvarez apparently never really answered for himself. The film has no idea whether it wants to update the film to be its own entity or just pay homage to the original, and as a result of this lack of focus, it succeeds at neither. On the one hand, the film frequently zigs where its predecessor zags, crafting a different narrative with its own themes and ideas, as well as more modern style and pacing. On the other hand, the film is filled with moments designed as callbacks, which leave all the non-fans in the audience scratching their heads wondering what they’re not in on.

Probably the biggest misstep among these homage moments is the recreation of the infamous “tree rape” scene. Granted, it’s one of the most memorable moments from the original, but why the hell would you want to include a moment that even Sam Raimi himself thought was a mistake the first time around? In the first Evil Dead, the rape scene, while arguably misogynistic, at least fit with the mindless exploitation movie tone. It was a shock moment in a film that was all about shock moments, so it worked. But the problem here is that this Evil Dead isn’t a mindless exploitation film. It has character arcs and running themes. The movie is, believe it or not, a metaphor for drug abuse. Not a very subtle or clever one, and the film tends to forget about it altogether, but it’s there all the same. It opens the movie, it closes the movie, it’s clearly meant to drive the movie emotionally. So how exactly does tree rape tie in to that? What does sexual violence have to do, either literally or symbolically, with this character’s arc? Why is this in your movie other than as a nod to the first one? Because I find it more than a little disturbing that you’re playing the brutal demonic rape of a young girl as fan service.

And that’s just the worst example. The film contains not one, but two references to the famous hand cutting scene from Evil Dead II, as well as a meaningful glance at a chainsaw by a character who never actually uses it. The crowning moment of pointlessness that pretty much sums the whole thing up is the post credits tag which is nothing more than a three-second clip in which Bruce Campbell walks on to say one of his famous catchphrases. No scene, no context, nothing actually happening onscreen, just a popular B-movie actor saying something you’ve already heard him say a thousand times*. Granted, a post credits tag is likely only to be seen by diehard fans anyway, but what kind of cheap, pandering, meaningless waste of Bruce Campbell’s time and ours was that? What are you making here, an Evil Dead remake, or an Evil Dead fan film?

That’s not to say the film is without merit. Fede Alvarez was reportedly handpicked by Sam Raimi, and it’s no wonder why. The dude is loaded with potential that just oozes off every frame of this film. I hope in the future he gets to work on his own projects where he doesn’t feel tied down to some previous legacy, because I could easily see great things coming from him. The gore is even better than the trailers implied: gooey, visceral, outrageous, and consistently entertaining. And he really gets good performances out of his actors, who throw themselves into this madness with wild abandon.

The stand out and instant scream queen is newcomer Jane Levy**. She’s absolutely astounding in her enthusiasm, nailing every moment, whether it calls for vulnerability or maniacal glee. If they follow through with their plans to make further sequels, following her character who will eventually meet and team up with the original Ash Williams [!?], then I’m onboard.

Evil Dead (2013)

But if this is to become its own franchise, it must learn to form its own style. Alvarez’s constant fluctuating from mimicking Raimi’s fondness for cheesy quick zooms to replicating the same grimy-looking, jump scare vibe as more modern horror films is not going to cut it. The film suffers from a lack of a singular identity, and while it has many enjoyable moments, it falls far short of the classic it’s spawned from.

*Which was immediately met by thunderous applause by the audience I was with, who immediately declared it “the best part of the film”. So I guess Evil Dead fans don’t mind being pandered to.

**Of whom I was apparently already supposed to be aware? Sorry, I don’t watch Suburgatory.

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