Remake Review – Evil Dead (2013)

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So, whilst I’ve been talking about Sam Raimi’s career and the Evil Dead series, I suppose this will be a good time to talk about Evil Dead, the remake/reboot of the Evil Dead series. Evil Dead was a massive thing in 2013. I saw trailers for this movie everywhere. I saw reaction videos to the red-band trailer all over youtube and I was so hyped to experience this movie. I was already a fan of the Evil Dead series, so far as to owning an Ash Williams figurine, and so I was very excited to see the classic Evil Dead experience brought up to date to the 21st century with so much new technology, new techniques, and so much new potential. When I found out that the film was to be produced by Sam Raimi and the legendary Bruce Campbell I become even more excited and decided that I had to watch this movie in cinemas as soon as it came out. So, myself and a few friends, who were also excited to watch this movie, made a trip to the cinemas to watch Evil Dead on the big screen and as we emerged from the 87 minute experience, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. A big part of me wondered whether it was just me as my friends enjoyed the movie and factually it made $97 million at the box office, so I pondered as to whether I had actually hyped the film up too much for myself. I wondered as to whether I had actually lifted the movie to inhuman levels of expectation that could never be reached. I left the movie alone for a while as many critics and publications praised this movie to no end and I felt like I was the one that’s wrong.

However, upon re-watching the film, feeling up to giving it a proper chance this time, I still feel disappointed.

Evil Dead is a very jarring movie. I understand that the movie is mainly remaking The Evil Dead and not its sequels so alot of the humor is quite downplayed similar to the original movie, but there is still a very mismatched tone that scars the movie’s intent. It mainly starts from the writing aspect. Evil Dead was not written Sam Raimi or any of the original writers of the original Evil Dead movies, it was written by Fede Alvarez, now best known for Don’t Breathe, and Evil Dead was his first feature length movie; and by god it shows. The dialogue is incredibly stagnant. Characters will talk to each other in a very contrived way with no emotion or character development. However, at some points in the movie it does feel like Fede Alvarez tried to write character developing dialogue, but it never comes off as genuine, it comes off as forced and very out of left field. An example of this is a scene when protagonist Mia brings up her mother’s lullaby: It’s supposed to be a touching moment, but since it comes out of nowhere and practically means nothing to the overall story it’s just distracting and feels disingenuous. The characters themselves are poorly developed and fall into the category of stereotypes: the asshole nerd, the token black girl, the dumb blond girl, the perfect hero, the damsel in distress. Whilst the movie does switch up these roles in a massive turn at the end of the film, throughout the majority of the film we’re forced to watch these bland, shallow, uninteresting characters go about the plot with barely any emotion. The end result being a lack of audience investment as I felt very unentertained whilst watching these characters interact in very unexciting ways.

Another glaring problem with these characters is the absolute stupidity of their actions. There were so many times where all common logic was thrown out of the window. I can put up with a bit of character stupidity, hell, in many horror movies it’s the stupidity of the characters that drive the plot forward, and the plot of the original The Evil Dead was driven by the stupidity of the characters. However, when the characters are so stupid they don’t react appropriately to the situation, that’s when I feel pushed away from any empathetical emotion. Take the raising of the demons: in the original movie, the demons are brought to life by the playing of a recorded passage from a professor’s notes. There’s nothing that says ‘don’t play this’, or ‘this is a really stupid idea’, the tape recorder is found in the basement and it’s human curiosity that brings the characters to play the tape, to which they stop directly afterwards because they all get an uneasy feeling. It’s a dumb thing to do but that set up doesn’t feel unnatural. In contrast: in Evil Dead, the demons are released because one of the characters brings the book, which is wrapped in plastic and barbed wire, out of a basement full of dried animals hanging from the ceiling. The asshole nerd character opens it, sees scrawlings that tell him not to read out the words in the book, sees that the words have been covered up so he uncovers them anyway and reads them aloud. See, there’s character stupidity, then there’s character stupidity that’s so poor I couldn’t feel sorry for them when they find themselves viciously attacks by the same demons that they unwittingly summoned. It was quite a frustrating experience, not an enjoyable one.

Now, if that was the intention, having characters so stupid that to see them being killed off feels somewhat cathartic and fun, I might be more accomodating to the film. The problem is that the movie plays itself very straight-faced. There’s a distinct lack of humor and silliness throughout the movie as the majority of the story plays itself quite seriously. Notice how I say ‘majority’, as there are moments which I believe were supposed to be funny as they harken back to moments from the original Evil Dead movies, but whereas The Evil Dead contained a relatively silly tone and a bit of ‘Three Stooges’ style humor underlying the more frightening moments, Evil Dead has nothing similar. So, what ends up happening is that ‘funny’ moments may appear unexpectedly, but because there’s no consistency in the tone, the ‘funny’ moments just aren’t funny, they’re just jarring to experience. When a deadite possessed character starts spouting off vulgar bravado at the heros in one scene only for the next scene to show two characters talking seriously about their situation, the inconsistant tone can really put off a viewer.

As for the acting, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. Aside from one of the actors, the majority of the cast are just so, well, underwhelming to watch. There are scenes which show that the actors are able to pull off varied performances, mainly when they’re possessed, but then I find myself bewildered as to why the actors give such disappointing performances overall. I hate to have to refer to the original movie so many times, but  the performances in The Evil Dead had energy. The actors were throwing themselves around the set, they were screaming, they were continuously moving and fighting. In this movie the actors are so underwhelmingly static. There’s barely any energy, there’s barely any emotion, there’s just disappointingly minimal movement and restrained performances. However, the only exception to that rule is Jane Levy, who plays Mia. She gives quite a varied performance and has the energy and emotion that the other characters lack. She moves, she screams, she yells and provides much needed energy to the scenes; it’s just a shame that she’s locked in a bloody basement for half the movie.

As for the film’s technical aspects, they aren’t ‘good’ either. Many critics who praised this move at the time talked about the film’s gore SFX. The gore was achieved through an obvious mix of practical effects and CGI and it’s definitely the highlight of the movie. Evil Dead is so full of blood and guts that the final scene literally rains blood. Every character in this film gets badly hurt or mutilated in some way, so Evil Dead definitely delivers the gore that the trailers were promising. However, my criticism of that is: ‘yes, I would love to appreciate the SFX, if I could bloody see it.’ Evil Dead suffers from very poor lighting. Some scenes are dark with a weird yellow filter making it really hard to make out what’s going on with the special effects. Although soft lighting, coloured filters and hard shadows can be effective when used sparingly, having them throughout the whole movie makes the movie difficult to watch. With such poor lighting you can’t appreciate the effects, the action, or even the detail of the set. A lot of great gore films show the SFX in very well lit areas because they want to show off how impressive their SFX team are, but with Evil Dead the lighting takes away from what could have truly been the best special effects of the 21st century.

The editing doesn’t help things either. I don’t know what the editor was doing, but the editing is really wonky. Unrelated clips are thrown into serious scenes which, I’m guessing, are trying to show context in an entertaining way similar to techniques used in Hot Fuzz, but since the film doesn’t keep consistency, it’s very off putting when this technique is used. Not only that, the movie is full of ineffective jumpscares that are not only built up poorly, they’re really poorly framed, so much so that the sound cues are the only things that told me I was watching a jumpscare. The rest of the film’s technical aspects are just bland, whilst the original The Evil Dead did so much to make it stand out in 1982, even if most of it’s techniques were quite crude. Evil Dead doesn’t do anything to stand out in 2013 at all. There’s nothing in this movie that feels ‘original’, it either homages to the original The Evil Dead, albeit poorly, or it unentertainingly plods along convinced it’s doing something good when it actually isn’t.

Evil Dead is a film that once in a while will deliver a decent idea, or a decent scene. The rest of the film feels like such a disappointing mess that’s it’s very difficult to enjoy. However, I can think of a way to properly fix this movie: take out any and all homages to the previous Evil Dead movies but still have the film be about a few teenagers in a cabin fighting demonic possessions, fix the lighting, work on the script, develop the characters properly and change the title from Evil Dead to maybe something like: “Hell Cabin, The Evil Dead Reborn”. By distancing this movie from the Evil Dead franchise as more of a spinoff or as a new idea could really help this movie carve it’s own identity. It’ll still be incredibly flawed and underwhelming but it wouldn’t mar such a well respected franchise. See, Evil Dead wasn’t just a trilogy of movies, it was multiple comic books, multiple video games and even a TV series all of which fleshed out the mythology over a period of 30 years. As it stands, Evil Dead feels like the black sheep of the Evil Dead franchise. It couldn’t be more different from the franchise yet the name of the movie and the numerous homages scream that it still wants to be part of the family. Originally this movie was supposed to be another start for a spin-off franchise, but despite it’s success, no Evil Dead sequel has ever been confirmed. Fede Alvarez has spoken on the “possibility”, but with the retiring of Bruce Campbell, and Sam Raimi not speaking about a potential sequel, it doesn’t like we’re going to receive another Evil Dead 2 anytime soon, nor will we get the supposed Army Of Darkness 2 we were promised either.

In conclusion, Evil Dead is underwhelming not just for an Evil Dead movie, but as a movie overall. I wouldn’t recommend it, instead I would recommend seeing the original Evil Dead movies again because I believe that one can have a much better experience watching those movies than watching Evil Dead.

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