May 09, 2013

EVIL DEAD Is Gory Fun Suffering From Bonnie Tyler Syndrome

"Your little sister's being raped in hell."
Note: This whole article is gonna be rife with spoilers.  Most of the stuff I've been watching is at least a year or two old, so I haven't been too concerned with issuing warnings, but I'm trying to be more considerate about the stuff I see in theaters.

While I'm a tremendous fan of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, I will admit that it's been some time since I actually sat down to properly watch any of them.  Not only that, but I'm pretty sure I've only seen the first film once.  I'm not alone when I say that when I think of Evil Dead, I'm really thinking of Evil Dead 2, which is an EXTREMELY different type of film despite telling almost the exact same story with the same main character.  Bruce Campbell's Ash has become one of the iconic genre heroes, to the point where there was once serious discussion of a Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash movie.  Really.  When Fede Alvarez's remake first started to take shape, most of the focus was around casting the lead role of Mia, a heroin addict who's brought to a secluded cabin by her friends so that she can detox and kick the habit cold turkey.  The role had originally gone to Lily Collins, but she later dropped out and was replaced by Jane Levy, who's currently the star of ABC's sitcom Suburgatory.  It looked like Levy had some pretty big shoes to fill, as Mia was basically pitched as "the new Ash."

I wish like hell that had been true.

Let me be clear: my problem isn't that Levy doesn't live up to the standards set by Campbell, which was probably the fear of most die hard Dead fans.  Just the opposite.  She's jaw-droppingly good throughout the film and I think she had the potential to create something truly unique here, a kind of wounded beauty who can also kick some serious ass.  The drug addict angle also had all kinds of possibilities.  We get a little glimpse of the "I know something horrifying is going on but everyone just thinks I'm going through withdrawal" routine, but it's never really explored or exploited in any kind of meaningful way.  It's a shame, because it would have been a great way to add a new dimension to both the story and to Mia herself.  She's funny and raw and she doesn't take any shit; she's the kind of character I would have LOVED to watch battle some demonic hellspawn for 90 minutes.

Unfortunately, we get her wet fart of a brother instead.

You see, Mia isn't so much Ash as she is Ash plus Cheryl/Linda.  Mia is the one who's first possessed by evil spirits (points deducted for no use of the word "Deadite" in the entire movie) and spends most of the film chained under the floorboards ala Ash's old girlfriend(s).  Make no mistake, Levy is super fun as Evil Mia, but that leaves us in need of a hero, and all we get is Shiloh Fernandez as David, the older brother who split years ago and left Mia to care for their dying mother.  He's come home for Mia's intervention, along with his girlfriend Natalie and old friends Olivia and Eric.  (If you take the first letters of all their names, it spells demon.  That feels like Diablo Cody's doing, as she did an uncredited polish on the script.)  Fernandez spends most of the movie brooding around the cabin like the third lead of a CW vampire series, looking pained and saying shit like, "What the hell is going on?" and "Everything's gonna be okay."  Elizabeth Blackmore is practically a blank slate as current girlfriend Natalie, and while Jessica Lucas pops a bit as David's nurse ex-girlfriend Olivia, she's given nothing to do but nervously fill syringes and get killed off first.  On the other hand, Lou Taylor Pucci really shines as Eric, the long haired, disillusioned schoolteacher who discovers the cursed book (now inexplicably called the Naturom Demonto) and accidentally unleashes the demon upon them all.  He pays for it though, getting the living shit kicked out of him by each of his possessed friends.  He also gets all the best lines, mostly calling David out for being an ineffectual moron with stuff like, "Your girlfriend just cut her fucking arm off.  Does that sound fine?"

It might sound like I really hated this movie, but I actually had a whole lot of fun with it, mostly because Alvarez really pushes the boundaries when it comes to gore.  First and foremost, there are almost no digital effects to be seen, which is even more impressive considering the sheer volume of blood and viscera on display.  Alvarez bragged at the premiere that he had to use 50,000 gallon tankers full of fake blood, although most of that was for the finale when blood literally starts raining from the sky.  Still, this is a movie chock full of brutality, where almost every cast member is horribly disfigured and/or dismembered and Alvarez's camera is not shy about showing us all the gruesome details.  My hat is off to anyone who really embraces the beauty of practical effects like this, as I'm sure it would have been cheaper and easier to do this stuff digitally.  I wish there had been more than six people at my screening, because I'm convinced most of this stuff would have gotten huge reactions from a packed house.

I was less of a fan of the "tree rape" sequence, which is easily one of the most memorable scenes from the original.  (It's echoed again in Evil Dead 2, although the trees simply attack Linda as opposed to outright raping her.)  Raimi's version is an all out assault where possessed tree branches tear away Cheryl's white dress and pin her down to the ground.  She's then stabbed between the legs but it's quick and brutal, emphasizing the violence more than the sexuality.  In this new version, the trees merely hold Mia in place while an evil spirit vomits out some sort of slimy, black worm that slowly creeps up her leg and inside of her.  It's a slow and deliberate sequence that feels far more explicit and prurient than Raimi's; Mia isn't attacked so much as purely violated.  And making the violator a squishy organic creature as opposed to a wooden branch only makes the scene feel more rancid by eradicating the gonzo exploitation feel that so typified Raimi's style.  At the end of the day they're both rape scenes, but where the original seemed to toe the line of civility, this new iteration gleefully crosses that line and then turns back to stick its tongue out at you.

The last 10-15 minutes are simultaneously the best and the most infuriating part of the flick.  David realizes that he must kill Mia to expel the demon, so he buries her alive.  He then uses an old car battery to shock her back to life, and just when they think they're safe, the Big Boss demon shows up.  (There's a sort of logic to this which I'm pretty sure depends on the audience not being able to count to five.)  Brother David goes down for the count (fucking FINALLY), leaving a restored Mia to fight off the Big Boss herself.  It is unquestionably the best ten minutes of the movie, even if it does shoehorn in the obligatory chainsaw hand.  (It's really weird how slavish the remake is to certain visuals from its predecessors while abandoning other details at will.)  It's electric fun and Levy more than proves why she was the right lady for the job.  It also proves that they picked the wrong character to center the movie around.  This is a B- movie that's elevated to a B+ by the great effects work.  If Alvarez had given us a hero as much fun as Ash, it could have been something really wonderful.

Tragically, that hero was there all along, chained under the floorboards.


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Title: Evil Dead
Director: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Theatrical (Showcase Revere)