Evil Dead

Directed By: Fede Alvarez

Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore

We lost a true legend this week.  Roger Ebert, the man who invented modern film criticism and one whose works I've read for years, has passed away.  He will definitely be missed.  While we'll never get the chance to hear his thoughts on the films of tomorrow, his words are just as relevant today in an era of remakes and adaptations.  This is definitely the case for this weekend's Evil Dead, a remake of Sam Raimi's original horror classic.  With Gene Siskel on an episode of At the Movies, Ebert said this about the 1981 film:

This one distills everything right down to the very basic thing.  Put the kids in the cabin.  Throw things at them for an hour and a half, and that's the movie so that it doesn't waste any time on characterization, needless dialogue, or any meaning whatsoever. 

I couldn't have said it any better.  In a way, the fact that his words ring true some 32 years later is the ultimate leave of presence.  Like his thoughts on The Evil Dead, his thousands of other reviews will live on forever.

Mia (Jane Levy) is a junkie, and she's just had an overdose that nearly killed her.  To help her kick the nasty habit, her brother David (Shiloh Feenandez), his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and her friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) take her to a remote cabin somewhere in the woods for the weekend.  Withdrawal symptoms kick in quickly, and the addict in Mia is desperately craving her fix.  Though they want to talk about withdrawal symptoms in this forum they've established for her at the cabin, a foul odor leads the group to the basement of the cabin.  There, they discover the remnants of several cadavers as well as an old chained book.  Eric takes the book, and begins deciphering it in secret.  As he utters the text of the book aloud, he unleashes an evil demon that will terrorize these young adults.  The demon's first target is Mia, whose withdrawal signs help mask its bloody agenda.  Because Eric doesn’t leave this book alone, no one is leaving this cabin alive tonight.

If seeing dismembered limbs, a face sliced in half, and buckets of blood spilled is what tickles your fancy, then Evil Dead is your movie.  You will get enough blood and gore in this film to last you for years.  If, however, you're looking for a horror movie that is genuinely scary, you will only find a splatter film that substitutes grotesque torture porn for true terror.  There's no story developed, and there are no worthwhile characters.  Because of this, we as moviegoers have no investment in the film.  Accordingly, the death of some helpless youngsters getting butchered on screen by some unnamed demon offers few or no frights.

What little story Evil Dead has is the same old horror plot we've seen a million times.  All the challenges facing our main characters are all their own fault.  They're on the demon's hit list because of their own inherent stupidity.  Eric is the fool who reads the book and unleashes the demon.  In a rather annoying way, the plot comes full circle, and Eric is the one trying to undo what this evil book has done.  There's nothing fresh or new in this remake whatsoever.  Without a robust story, director Fede Alvarez neglects to give us the full history of our demon.  We get no name, agenda, or information on the Necronomicon.  We need a little more than that to appreciate the villain.  I realize that there's a trilogy of Evil Dead films that give us all the backstory in the world, but this is a remake and should be able to stand on its own feet as a narrative.

While most of the actors offer terribly bland performances, Suburgatory star Jane Levy displays a certain talent for portraying insane, scary characters.  She looks downright evil in a crazy way.  Beyond the impressive makeup job by the crew, Levy gives a terrifying performance as the embodiment of the demon released when Eric reads the Book of the Dead.  She oozes with a sick, twisted menace as she delightfully portrays this demonic figure.  She saves the best for last though in her final confrontation with the demon at the end of the film.  Here she gives us the money scenes.  Her bloody showdown with her evil foe is sadly the only truly enjoyable part of the movie.  Chainsaw and all, Levy shows the demon who's boss in the tradition of many female horror icons before her.  In this straightforward remake of the campy original, this is exactly the type of lead character we need.  Unfortunately, Levy's performance is just not enough to make up for the rest of the movie's flaws.

Evil Dead is the bloodiest film I've seen in years.  For those who love horror movies of this nature, you'll definitely be satisfied.  I, however, am on the other side of the fence.  I appreciate a horror movie with a decent story and characters about whom we reasonably care.  My scary movies have to actually be scary.  Evil Dead gets a 0.09% rating.  Have some Bloody Marys with this one.