Mia (Jane Levy) didn't just hit rock bottom; this longtime junkie died. I mean, sure, the EMTs or whoever were able to revive her, but death makes for a hell of a wakeup call. Previous stabs at interventions didn't take, so several of her closest friends hatch a different scheme this time around: drag Mia to her family's hopelessly remote cabin in the woods. Without heroin or...well, much
of anything else around for seemingly hundreds of miles, she'd at the very least be free from temptation. There's little to distract her from getting better. Mia has her closest friends and her estranged older brother within arm's reach to lean on for support, and it just so happens that there are a couple of medical professionals in this lot to help her dry out.
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The cruel irony is that Mia is the only one who sees what else is going on. This backwater cabin is a gateway to Hell, and something on the other side is clawing at that door. Everyone else writes off Mia's erratic behavior -- scalding herself with third-degree burns in the shower, incoherently ranting about the woods attacking her, pointing a fucking shotgun at her brother -- as a junkie suffering from withdrawal. Before more longer, Mia's not there anymore. Some demon has invaded what was once her body and is wearing it like a meat suit. One by one, it sadistically disfigures and dismembers Mia's friends and family until it's swallowed every last soul, infusing it with the strength to at long last fling open the gates of Hell.
If you're bracing yourself for yet another rant and rave about horror remakes...well, you're not gonna get one here. As much as I love the original Evil Dead, there's a hell of a lot of room for improvement, and the pre-release press definitely suggested that this would be the right kind of remake. Turns out...? It's not. For way too much of its runtime, this re-envisioning of The Evil Dead is kind of an indifferent shrug of a movie.
On paper, the addiction angle is brilliant. Not so much for the metaphor of the demon within, but more because I love the dramatic irony of an unreliable character being the only one attuned to the horrors surrounding her. In practice, though, the first act of the movie is unrelentingly dark, dour, and depressing even before it starts to rack up a body count, leaving Evil Dead feeling kind of tonally one-note. The lack of any meaningful characterization is what really stomps all over it. Hardly anyone in front of the camera has anything resembling a personality, leaving 'em mostly interchangeable. At no point do they threaten to come across as close friends, blood relations, or hell, even people...just spam in a cabin, twiddling their thumbs until it's their turn to get hacked apart. Shiloh Fernandez lugs a lot of the movie around on his aggressively bland shoulders, failing to convincingly sell so much as a single line of dialogue. The guy's just a woefully miscast, gaping void of whatever the opposite of charisma is. Aside from Mia and occasionally David, I couldn't tell you the names of any of the other characters in the flick even as I was in the middle of watching it. Their initials do spell "DEMON", though, so there's that, I guess.
The demonic taunts pale in comparison to the original. "You're gonna die here, you pathetic junkie!" "Why don't you come down here so I can suck your cock, pretty boy?" "Mia's not here, you fucking idiot!" "Motherfucker! I will kill you like I killed your whore!" "Feast on this, motherfucker!" Absolutely none of it's
unnerving, disturbing, or vaguely memorable, playing like the screenplay was punched up by an 8th grader who just discovered Carlin's 'Seven Dirty Words' on YouTube. The makeup effects behind these deadites are more realistic, sure, but they're actually less disturbing than the clown makeup pancaked onto the possessed that Sam Raimi and company unleashed thirty years back. When I first saw The Evil Dead a lifetime ago, these creatures didn't look like anything I'd seen before or since. The remake's deadites, meanwhile, are pretty much indistinguishable from any other modestly budgeted demons-in-meat-suits flick, continuing to take all the wrong cues from The Exorcist.
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I get that the difference between suspense and surprise is knowing -- or at least thinking you know -- what's lurking around the next bend. Evil Dead delights in showing its cards way too early, so deliberately setting up every scare that you're kind of just, like, "well, I guess I know what happens next..." The moments that are directly remade from the first two Evil Dead movies -- the head of the possessed barely poking out from the cellar door, the tendril rape, severing a possessed hand...err, arm -- have a hell of a lot more money behind them but don't pack nearly the same impact. The direction and camerawork are undeniably accomplished but don't have that hyperkinetic verve that defined Raimi's original. Even with all the havoc that's wrought, it's surprisingly slow and uninvolving.
The frustrating thing is that this remake really does get so much right that I kind of wish it had fully thrown off the shackles of the original Evil Dead and were instead a completely original movie. Not having anything close to Ash gets it a lot of the way there already. New setpieces like a nailgun massacre are phenomenal. The final ten minutes are fucking brutal in the best possible way, so unnervingly intense that I paced around my living room watching them, unable to stay perched on my couch. The remake doesn't pull any punches: so visceral, so gruesome, and unleashing so many crimson geysers of blood that I'm kind of astonished that it slunk by with an R rating. I respect the hell out of director Fede Alvarez for using practical effects and old-school camera wizardry rather than leaning on CGI. There are some digital nips and tucks, sure, but every bit of the splatter you see is in-camera, and it's glorious. Jane Levy is something to behold as well. Hers is an astonishingly punishing role, playing someone who looks like she's already been to Hell and back, then torturing her relentlessly and gradually transforming her into a gleefully depraved demon. It's an indescribably intense and endlessly compelling performance, so much so that every scene without Levy seems kind of flat by comparison.
With a stronger screenplay and maybe more of a drive to be its own movie, this reimagining of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead could've been a stone cold classic. Instead, it's a decent horror flick with a couple of tremendous setpieces and a hell of a leading lady, and I'll probably forget about the remake altogether once I put this Blu-ray disc back on the shelf. Rent It.
It's a far cry from a 16mm camera mounted on a piece of lumber, that's for sure. Lensed in 4K with Sony's shiny, F65 camera, Evil Dead is startlingly crisp and detailed. Black levels are appropriately dark and dense,
and contrast remains substantial throughout. As much as I've griped about the movie up to this point, there's not a whole lot of room for complaint with its release on Blu-ray. No excessive filtering ever rears its head, and I couldn't spot any hiccups in the compression or missteps in the authoring anywhere in here. An expectedly first-rate effort from Sony.
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No aspect ratio controversies for this take on Evil Dead; this Blu-ray disc is presented at the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Evil Dead arrives on a dual layer disc and has been encoded with AVC.
The six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on this Blu-ray disc somehow manages to be every bit as aggressive as the movie itself. The sound design is remarkably immersive, filling every speaker with howling wind, creaking planks of wood, small armies of flies, and swirling demonic voices. Along with the deadites encircling their prey, the surrounds are also teeming with effects like a fucking nailgun massacre, with each blast embedding itself in wood and flesh alike with a deep, satisfying thud. Evil Dead also coaxes a hellish, gutteral growl from the subwoofer while it's at it, and the score inspired by the original films sounds tremendous as well.
Evil Dead features a second 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track, this time in Portuguese. An English descriptive service track has been provided as well, along with Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs (640kbps) in Spanish, French, and Thai. Subtitles are offered in English (traditional and SDH), Chinese (traditional), French, Spanish, Indonesian, Korean, and Portuguese.
Director Fede Alvarez mentions "if there's ever an extended cut..." a couple of times throughout his audio commentary and even touches on an alternate ending, and maybe that explains the lack of deleted scenes. There's not even an unrated version on this disc, although
Evil Dead apparently only lost a tiny handful of frames to land an R. Brace yourselves for a re-release at some point, I'm sure.
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- Audio Commentary: Director Fede Alvarez and fellow co-writer Rodo Sayagues are joined by most of the cast: Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci, and Jessica Lucas. A lot of the time, commentaries with that many people in the room at once can get kinda chaotic, but that's not even a little bit of an issue this time around. This is one of those tracks that I really enjoyed listening to, but I didn't find myself jotting down all that much in the way of notes. Among the highlights for me were taking a, um, life cast of a dead cat, running through what was lensed during reshoots, trying to buck the audience's expectations, and resisting the urge to use CGI aside from minor touch-ups. A charming, if not exactly compelling, listen.
The commentary features its own set of subtitles as well: English, Chinese (traditional), Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.
- Featurettes (40 min.; HD): Otherwise, Evil Dead's extras are spread across a stack of five featurettes. "Directing the Dead" (7 min.) touches on grounding character behavior even in such a dementedly supernatural context, and there's also some brief chatter about the sense of freedom in shaping these performances and how the remake relies on old-school cinematic tricks whenever possible. "Evil Dead - The Reboot" (10 min.) delves into the internal strife among Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, and Sam Raimi about whether or not to remake the original classic, and from there, everyone involved talks about shaping it into its own movie rather than a shot-by-shot recreation. "Making Life Difficult" (8 min.) is purely about how grueling and exhausting a shoot this was for Jane Levy, and that's expanded on in a nine minute video diary, "Being Mia", elsewhere on the disc. The last of the extras is the Necronomicon-centric "Unleashing the Evil Force" (5 min.). Its title had me expecting more of a special effects featurette, what with the horror press rightly praising this remake for its disinterest in CGI, but that's barely addressed in any of these extras at all.
Evil Dead serves up an UltraViolet digital copy code and comes packaged in a slipcover.
The Final Word
As gloriously gruesome as this remake of The Evil Dead is, there's nothing as creepy as Cheryl rattling off the numbers and suits of those cards from the other end of the room, nothing as unnerving as the relentless taunts of "we're gonna get you...!", and, up till the end, nothing as visceral and disturbing as the pencil-through-the-ankle of the original. This reimagining somehow manages to be both brutal and bland, let down by an exhaustingly dour script that aims for little more than loosely stringing all the mayhem together somehow. There's no longer a pervasive sense of dread. You don't really get the sense that its characters are being pushed past the brink of insanity. It would've been a stronger effort without all the homages and recreations of key moments from Raimi's original; the remake is well on its way to being its own movie, and the slicker but less effective retreads of thirty year old scares just get in the way. (Forty year old scares if you count how many times it mimics The Exorcist.)
I mean, there are moments I like. I'm glad I took the time to watch it. I don't hate it. Many bonus points for shrugging off CGI and for dishing out batshit insane kills like the chainsaw mayhem that closes out the flick. Jane Levy puts in a hell of a performance that buoys a splatterfest that's less distinctive, less stylish, less charming, less terrifying, less intense, and a hell of a lot less memorable than the original. Rent It.