Ever feel like you are going around in circles? Whilst watching the new Evil Dead today I found myself thinking; ‘This is fine but The Cabin in The Woods (2012, Drew Goddard) already covered this!’ Inclement weather, cabin, (in the woods) excessive violence, lack of characterisation, and a slight grey tint. But of course when I watched The Cabin in The Woods I found myself thinking ‘This is O.K. but didn’t The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi) cover this already?’ Clearly The Evil Dead’s legacy has endured, will it continue, lets find out.
The new Evil Dead is the feature début of Uruguayan film maker Fede Alvarez. Mia (Jane Levy) invites her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and her two friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) to the family cabin so that they can support her in her bid to get clean of drugs. Mia has not seen her brother for a long time due to some ill feeling over his not being present at their mothers death from a long illness. David is happy to support Mia but is quickly told by Olivia about the full extent of Mia’s addiction, including the fact that she clinical died and had to be brought back with a defibrillator. Shocked, David is convinced, against his own judgement, to keep Mia from leaving the Cabin until see gets clean for good. Mia starts to get extreme withdrawal and claims that she can smell rotting meat throughout the cabin. This leads the group to discover the trapdoor leading down to a basement hung with rotting animal corpses and filled with witchcraft paraphernalia. Eric discovers a mysterious book bound with wire which he takes up to his room for investigation. This is the book of the dead. Eric reads some passages from the book out loud which releases an evil demon into their world.
Mia is the first to see and sense the demon and wants to leave. The others do not believe her blaming her paranoia on her withdrawal, and David admits that he will help the others to prevent her from leaving. Feeling betrayed Mia tries to escape though the woods, but it is already too late. The demon catches up with her and ‘enters’ her. The possession makes her violent and each person she attacks also becomes a demon. The book states that five souls are needed to cause blood to rain from the sky and the main demon to rise. David must find a way to fight for his sisters soul.
I should start by saying that Evil Dead is a good film, and a well made film, as a début it is a great film and credit should be given to Alvarez for not ruining The Evil Dead something that so easily could have happened as it happens all the time with many franchise re-boots. As producer, Sam Raimi obviously had a huge amount of faith in Alvarez to trust him with remaking his own movie and it shows.
There are however a few problems, the first being a common bug bear of mine in that the film was not particularly scary. Once again the fear of graphic physical violence is confused with psychological horror. The special effects set pieces are visually stunning, if that is an appropriate phrase that can be used for watching the blood spurt as someone saws off their own arm. Although there were moments where I was shocked I feel no lasting impression of fear now that the film is over which is the key to a classic horror. The Evil Dead on the other hand had both graphic violence and a lasting effect on generations, so I have to ask what is the original doing that the new film is not?
The original The Evil Dead had comedy and horror in equal measure, or in other words the film had an important light and shade to it. It has been commonly recognised by film makers like Spielberg (in reference to the shocks in Jaws, 1975) that a horror film needs a rhythm, if you have a period of tension you also need moments when the audience are able to relive that tension through either laughter or tranquillity. A classic example of this is the end ‘twist’ to Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S. Cunnigham) where Alice float in the canoe on the tranquil lake. This tranquillity allows us to find the moment that follows it even more shocking. The comedy in the original The Evil Dead made the moments of extreme horror more shocking.
With the new Evil Dead we already start off with quite a depressing scenario. (Something which is quite fashionable at the moment, the Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, Samuel Bayer) remake is another example) Mia needs to get off drugs, her relationship with her brother is fractured and their mother’s death hangs over them. Their is no light-heartedness and in fact no intentional moments of humour throughout the whole film so we never really get a chance to relax enough to then feel afraid. We can not feel that the characters are loosing anything important because nothing hugely important has been presented to us, except for the delicate sibling relationship between Mia and David.
Which brings me on the the second problem, again very common in big budget horror recently, which is poor characterisation. The original film had a realistic quality because the people looked like they could be real people, and we almost playing themselves in some cases. It is hard to get the same sense with the new movie where the characters look like actors, it feels a lot more like a fantasy film. Even in terrible crude 80’s slashers where everyone is a one dimensional stereotype the film-makers would try to make the main protagonist likeable (even anti-heroes can be likeable)
David however is just plain boring. We don’t find anything out about him except for Mia’s perception of him. We are introduces to his girlfriend Natalie who then disappears for half of the film, he also has a dog at the start that we don’t see again until it becomes convenient to the plot. Olivia has some personality but does not last for very long, Lou Taylor Pucci is desperately trying to act, and creates an interesting character that is unfortunately reduced to trying to hammer some good sense into David in between maniacal laughter. The most interesting character in the film with the most back story and likeability is Mia who is taken away from us when she becomes a demon. All in all it might of been preferable to of made Mia the protagonist for the whole film while ging cold turkey, it would of made for an interesting interpretation on the original.
I know that might all sound very critical but lets pull back for a moment and take an overview because I am aware that my expectations are a lot more elevated than that of most people. As a Friday night horror movie Evil Dead is a good option, it has great special effects, plenty of thrills and spills, and makes an attempt at being a bigger and more important type of movie than it ultimately is. Fitting in with the recent style of glossy American horror, Evil Dead may not be terrifying but it does have entertainment value and throughout Alvarez is very concious of not trampling The Evil Dead’s memory. Alvarez seems to be a very promising film maker and if anything Alvarez is now just underneath Ti West on my list of ‘what will they do next.’