The Main Course
Alright, you primitive screwheads, get this straight - this is not a by the numbers remake of Evil Dead 1 or 2. It is not meant to be, and should not be perceived as such. Nor is it a reboot. In fact, I believe it is actually a sequel of sorts. We'll get to that later.
There is pretty much no way to discuss this movie and ignore the original. The original movie was a low budget mock up of earlier 70's low budget horror flicks, and intentional or not, was hilarious for how bad it was. The sequel, as you likely know, was just the same story slightly retooled and expanded and definitely played for the yucks. Army of Darkness, the third in the series takes this to a whole other plane of crazy, basically turning Ash's fight against the Deadites into a bad D&D game. Which was AWESOME. That movie series had humor, Bruce Campbell's chin, lots of snark and sarcasm, and plenty of charm. This movie has none of that. If Sam Raimi had made a higher budget horror movie, influenced by the craziness of 70's Italian horror masters like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, with a heavy dose of Lovecraft, and done it well, that would be the movie this was copying. Fede Alvarez obviously loves the original movie, and he does consistently make direct references to them, but this is a different set up, a different plot, and there is an attempt at creating some kind of deeper subtext.
Let's talk technicalities. This is filmed amazingly well. The sound design is perfect. There are several points in the movie where the sound of something decidedly disgusting happens off-screen and when you finally see what was making that sound it was all worth it. The music is subtle for the most part, but in one of the several direct ports from the original movie, is glaringly center stage when we follow the Steadicam zooming through the woods. Practical effects are some of the best blood and flesh work I have seen, and ride the line of being unbelievable. If you had to place a sub genre on this movie it is Torture Porn, and there are some sickly livid thrills. For fans of the original, the tree hentai scene remains, though shorter, yet somehow more disturbing.
First off, despite the grandiose claims of their ad campaign this is not the scariest movie you have ever seen. If you are a fan of the genre you have seen too many movies to be scared by the splatter fest and possessions scenes this movie will assault you with. However, your skin will crawl, you will flinch, and you will marvel at just how much blood can be shown in one scene. Once the action gets under way, this movie never relents. Scene after scene the director, assisted by some top notch practical effects, attack your senses with close up images of hyper-realistic violence, that gets more and more graphic as the run time counts up, and yet somehow manages to not fall into comedy. This is not a a Troma picture, despite the fact that I am certain there were many 50 gallon drums of blood used in the making of this movie. The fact that the gore never slips into comedy is remarkable. Usually, that kind of grotesquerie can only go so long before the audience becomes inured to the vicarious suffering and just sees it as bloody slapstick. With a notable exception, every actor in this movie brought their best guises of misery, fear, revulsion and freaked right the fuck out.
Everyone that is, except Shiloh Fernandez. Honestly, I am not sure how he gets work. Sad thing is he is movies I like, otherwise. OK, I am not sure that "liking" Dead Girl is an appropriate statement.
Jane Levy, in contrast, made my day. I love her just a little bit right now. Again, the most impressive thing about her performance is that she managed to hold up enough intensity that her incredibly over-the-top lines and deadite makeup did not become a joke, as it did in the original film. Her performance is the key to understanding this movie, in my mind.
Minor spoilers henceforth, proceed at your own risk. If you've seen the original movie this warning does not apply to you.
Levy's character, Mia, is what brings our doomed friends together, as she needs to detox as she tries to cut heroine cold turkey. The group includes her estranged brother David, physically embodied by Shiloh Hernandez. He is so far out of her life that he does not realize that she has already OD's once before, and has to be told this by their mutual friends which he abandoned when he abandoned Mia. Eric, a bespectacled hipster teacher (probably English) is obviously resentful of his former friend, but the lovely Olivia, a nurse, is only concerned with helping Mia. The final member of our five-some is David's girlfriend, a seemingly innocuous blonde named Natalie, who appears to have come just to keep David company.
|Jane Levy slightly gussied up.|
Of course the geeky guy just has to go open it. I know I would. And of course when he reads the warning about never reading it aloud, he does so. That part I would not do. He does this as Mia is having serious withdrawals and is wandering around in the rain, looking like death warmed over.
When the evil force enters her it knocks her to her knees, but it could just as easily be the heroin. A different movie would have left you wondering whether this was all her hallucination, but this one doesn't. The Descent it is not. She doesn't immediately turn deadite. For several minutes we get her begging to be allowed to leave, but since this is an intervention that's a no go. Some familial drama leads to a withdrawal fueled escape attempt in the rain, which lands the car in the swamp, and Mia face to face with her doppleganger. Watch the movie for more details. Bad things. Nasty things. Tree things...
While the first movie featured some lore and world building this movie really lets you get a good look at the book, with it's stylized script and full page illuminations of deadites. Each deadite has a process it undergoes, and the one in Mia likes to be boiled alive. This is a brutal scene and the scalds on her face look legitimately disturbing. She begs to go home, in this choppy, high pitched wheeze that sounds like she is ready to die of fright. Every scene with Jane Levy hits home hard. It would have been very easy for her role to go into left field, but she kept it as realistic as could ever be expected. There are lines that are nearly word for word from the original script and were hilarious then. They are creepy now.
I'm not going to recap the movie, because these things are better seen. I will tell you this. In the original movie the kids were basically lined up for the slaughter and had typically stupid 70s reactions. In this movie they seem to be more competent, reasonable people who have seen some really unreasonable things. Of course, they are still lined up for the slaughter, but there is a little more resistance.
Eventually, as we near the conclusion Mia is buried alive as a means to purify her, which would normally result in her death but saving her soul. Her brother McGuyvers a way of bringing her back, cleaning her of both the deadite and the heroin. For the first time in this film Jane Levy is pretty, even when she is covered in blood and screaming in terror, she is pretty. This is important, actually. She is clear eyed, aware, decisive, and brave. She changes from a simpering druggie into a worthwhile survivor.
The climax of this movie is brutal and rushes right up to the line of where it could have slipped into ridiculousness, and I am sure some think it does. For me, despite the incredulous amount of gore, the performance by Jane Levy and the practical effects keep it just inside the lines.
It's worthwhile to sit and watch the credits. There are some voice overs from the original movie, some more background images from the book, and a special surprise at the end. These aren't the only nods to the original movies. Sam Raimi's Delta 88 is rusting in the back yard. This movie has been in every one of the Evil Dead movies thus far. Great trunk space. Everyone is from Michigan, just as the original movies and principals. The cabin is a dead ringer for the original. Gas is still at a premium. The way I saw this movie, this could be in the same time line as the originals. The events of Evil Dead 1 and Two took place in 1981, and Ash was sucked away several years later (not necessarily 1992.) After that, Mia and David's mom somehow acquired this place and it may be what drove her mad. The kids hung here in the mid 90s and now, in 2013 they have returned.
The Final Cut
I'm giving it 4 of 5 Diablos. The gore goes to 11, the practical effects and make up are top notch. There is some remarkably good acting countered by remarkably wooden acting. Story is fine, but paper thin (as you should expect). Atmosphere was well established, and despite the source material, there are some surprises.