Quick Take: Matt finds horror gold while attending the world premiere of Evil Dead at South by Southwest.
As I begin writing this, it has been almost 12 hours on the dot since director Fede Alvarez introduced myself and overall 1200 other lucky individuals to his feature film debut, Evil Dead, at South by Southwest 2013. 12 hours seems like a long time, especially in this day and age where everyone wants to be the first to get a good or bad word in. In some respects, I’m no different. I assuredly logged in to Twitter as fast as possible to post some initial musings. I find that when one sees a film they like in a festival setting, there’s some much built into that viewing. The best theaters, wonderful crowds, cast and crews being present for Q&A’s, not to mention the film itself. All these can build a bubble of joy that might make one not as judgmental or critical as one would normally be. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t spewing pure hyperbole.
Such was the case for Evil Dead. Despite a late start, I was immediately giddy as I took my seat at the always impressive Paramount Theater. Once I realized that Bruce Campbell himself was seated a mere few rows away from me, I was ecstatic. After the unbelievably brutal opening scene, I was floored. As the film chugged along, reveling in it’s blood-soaked brutality, I had long forgotten about and no longer cared that I missed another screening I was wanting to attend. As the film ended and the cast and crew Q&A began, I never wanted the night to end.
If you can’t tell by all that, there was definitely a lot more going on than simply seeing the film. So, instead of flocking to the laptop and pouring out every feeling I had into a review, I wanted to sleep on it. I wanted the film to gestate and really try and cut out everything else to give a completely honest review.
That wait, my friends, turns out to have been a complete waste of time. Fede Alvarez and everyone else involved did the unthinkable and made a remake of The Evil Dead that is utterly and astoundingly awesome.
Remake is honestly not the right word. I know that studios love to throw around the word “reimagining” when bringing an older property to a new generation in a nice, newly filmed package. In this case, however, “reimagining” is exactly the right word. Alvarez and company took the primitive ideas of what was going on in Raimi’s 1981 classic and builds upon them in a way unique to it’s own creatively disturbed process.
For instance, Evil Dead still focuses on five friends who have all met up at a cabin in the woods. Unlike most horror film excursions to some random cabin in the middle of nowhere, usually meant for a weekend getaway of non-stop partying and pre-marital fornicating, this trip is different. Mia (Jane Levy) has invited everyone here to not only show them that she is kicking her severe drug habit once and for all, but also to have them there to support her and see her through the process. This includes her close friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) as well as her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). Everyone is surprised by David’s arrival, especially considering how long he’s been absent from Mia’s life. It’s not long before he’s clued in to just how bad her addiction has become and that no matter what, they can’t let Mia leave the cabin.
One of the more subtle yet interesting aspects of the film is that the cabin isn’t just a random place that one of the group discovered or knew about. It was at one time a family retreat for Mia and David when they were young. The place is littered with photos and memories of a time before their family fell apart and they both became so broken in their own ways. Since that time, though, the cabin has obviously been broken into and was the stage for something evil (a fact that the audience will already be aware of as said instance opens the movie exquisitely) that the group could have never imagined, but will experience in almost no time at all.
Although all of the Evil Dead films have that feeling that something evil is always just lurking in the woods at all times, it’s not until someone goes messing around with the old Necronomicon that literal hell breaks loose. Such is the case with Alvarez’s Evil Dead. The book itself gets a fairly gross redesign, which works but won’t be remotely as memorable as the old ones. It is, however, still filled with incredible art and damning incantations that young adults can’t help but decipher and say out loud. Cue the cameras pulling through the trees. The gore and terror won’t be far behind.
From that point on, the film becomes an unrelenting assault on the senses. Bodies become possessed, flesh is carved, bones and tendons are revealed and snapped, power tools are used for purposes that no one ever intended. To say the film is simply gory doesn’t even come close to covering it and the best part is, it’s almost entirely practical effects. I’d say 90-95% is practical and it makes every bit of body horror that much more cringe inducing and, in all honesty, fun. If nothing else, I hope this film shows the big studios that practical effects are worth the time and effort as it shines every single second on screen.
All of this builds to an exciting and surprisingly tense finale that lets the film end on quite the high note while at the same time making it possibly the bloodiest film one will have ever seen. Make no mistakes, my friends. This is a HARD R rating. Horror fans are going to rejoice whilst I think it might be a little too much for the regular movie goer. It’s intense.
Despite nailing the horror aspect of the film, it wouldn’t be the incredible experience that it is without Alvarez behind the camera and Jane Levy in front of it. Alvarez brings an interesting eye to the film, crafting an immediate mood and atmosphere that lends itself exquisitely to the natural tension the film builds as it becomes more and more insane. While borrowing minimally from some of Sam Raimi’s style, Alvarez infuses a great deal of himself into the shots, regardless of filmmaking rules. When asked during the Q&A about how he did a “filmmaking no-no” with a shot in the film, Alvarez simply replied, “I don’t care.” It’s obvious that this type of mindset established a bond between himself and Raimi, another filmmaker that could care less about “the rules” and more about his own personal vision. That freedom allows Alvarez to shine and I can’t wait to see more films from him. (Alvarez did confirm during the Q&A that a sequel to Evil Dead is already in the works)
Levy is a revelation as the defacto star of the film. She’s given the most range and opportunities to inhabit the twists and turns that her role as Mia provides. She nails that early fractured naivete of her character yet manages to ramp up her performance as the film chugs along, allowing Levy to portray elements of horror films not often allotted female actors of the genre, in more ways than one. She is electric in every scene and will in the end be what makes the film for most people.
I feel like I could literally go on and on about the film, but much of that would head into spoiler territory, which would be a disservice to those who haven’t seen it. The sound work is extraordinary, causing every bit of violence to be that much more impactful and stomach churning. The score by Roque Banos is understated and haunting and, as all the best scores do, accentuates the picture without becoming overbearing.
I find myself almost trying to find something that I didn’t like about it, but it feels like fishing. You could say that the rest of the cast isn’t that fleshed out, but it’s reaching. You could say the film is at times too concerned with fan service, but what horror film isn’t, honestly.
So to all the doubters, have faith. To all the haters, sit tight. To all the horror fans that have been patiently waiting for something new yet respectfully familiar from the horror genre in all the best ways, your time has come. Evil Dead is the shot in the arm that the genre so desperately needs and is truly a must see. Two thumbs up and four for gore.
One last thing; stay after the credits. You won’t be sorry.
Evil Dead is rated R and opens in theaters everywhere on April 5, 2013.