When a movie’s tag line (in HUGE letters that take over the entire movie poster) read "The Most Terrifying Film You will Ever Experience," it has a lot to live up to. I mean, it’s not even a critic’s quote. It’s the studio basically patting themselves on the back and making a promise to the audience. So the question is... are they full of hot air? Or will this film scare the crap out of you?
"Evil Dead," the 2013 reboot of the classic 1981 horror film, will not take over the mantle of "most terrifying." In fact, it won’t take the mantle for most original, inventive, or bloody either. Oh, it’s got blood, buckets and buckets of blood. The gore is rampant. But... haven’t we seen all of this before? Not even just in the original film, but in hundreds of horror films since?
"The Evil Dead" was written and directed by Sam Raimi and released on very few screens in 1981. It took four years to complete and was released unrated which limited its playability. (Oddly, now it’s shown uncut on television showing how rating restrictions have changed.) Over the years it became a cult hit on VHS and spawned two popular sequels. Now, under the tutelage of Sam Raimi himself, he has produced a remake directed by newcomer Fede Alvarez whose short film "Panic Attack!" won him acclaim and attention of the industry. He proposed a remake of the film and his revamped story won over Raimi and producer Bruce Campbell (who played the role of Ash in the original films).
So here’s the basic premise: Five young adults gather together at a remote family cabin to tend to their childhood friend Mia ("Suburgatory’s" Jane Levy) who has decided to give up drugs cold-turkey and needs to be watched over as she goes through withdrawal. Joining her are absentee brother David (Shiloh Fernandez, "Red Riding Hood"), bookish Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci, "Personal Velocity"), RN Olivia (Jessica Lucas, "Cloverfield") and David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore, "The Legend of the Seeker").
Once Mia dumps her drugs and starts freaking out, she notices a terrible smell. The five discover a secret passage into the basement where they find dead cats hanging in a room that looks sacrificial. There, they discover a book whose cover is made of human skin and whose pages are clearly the work of Satan worshippers. However, neatly scrawled notes saying "DON’T DO THIS" or "DON’T DO THAT" warn the reader on every page not to read anything in the book. Of course, Eric instantly reads a bunch of nonsensical words and, before you can say "tree rape," Mia is attacked by a thicket and raped by some sort of vomit-branch (or something like that, because there’s also a creepy looking girl that follows her around acting weird and throwing up twigs).
She runs back home and tells her friends she was attacked (not "raped," just attacked) and they don’t believe her because, you know, she’s a drug addict and probably hallucinating through her withdrawals. Soon enough, all is not right with Mia and grisly deaths, torn flesh, and blood rain become the order of the day.
It seems the filmmakers assume that overt gore is what is supposed to be terrifying. Sure, it’s horrific, but terrifying? Eh. For the most part the crew used practical effects to show a girl slicing her arm off with a meat carver or cutting her jaw off with a piece of glass. Cool. Sure. Way to go special effects artists! But that’s all that is wowing us. The technical aspect? The problem is that you are literally accosted by gory scenes and blood. After forty-five minutes of this you get desensitized to it and it actually gets kind of boring.
The story itself doesn’t make a lot of sense. Something about some creepy demon that will rise if five people are killed or something. It’s supposed to be the ultimate evil. Sure, the finale is suspenseful and the last ten minutes or so are fun, but was I scared? No. Was I even mildly terrified? Not at all.
The other problem is the characters. Natalie barely speaks in the film. In fact, she is such a non-entity you forget she’s in the movie until she suddenly reacts to something and you think, "oh yeah. Her." Pucci’s Eric is a head-scratcher because you can’t tell if he called the demons on purpose or not. You also wonder what happened to his acting talent because it is not on display in this film. It feels as though he’s embarrassed to be there. Lucas, Fernandez, and Levy all bring a little bit more to their work with Levy having the most to do. While some of her "possessed state" antics are laughable, it’s not really her fault. It’s just not frightening to see a young woman prance around giggling and swearing in a demon voice. It’s been done so many times and been spoofed ad nauseam that you can’t really go back to it being in any way frightening.
Technically, the film is well made with effective (yet expected) production design by Rob Gillies ("Boogeyman") and beautiful cinematography by Aaron Morton. Director Alvarez has talent for sure, but without any true scares and without much in the way of characters to root for, the movie feels stale and weirdly dull at times. Even when one character chases two others with a nail gun, the audience finds itself just waiting for the sequence to end.
The original was something brand new for audiences. It was gory when gore wasn’t as grotesque as it is today, and it was creepily atmospheric. It became a cult sensation for the very fact that it was something new. With the brand new "Evil Dead" we are given a scenario we’ve seen a hundred times by now: Five moody young adults trapped in an isolated cabin where some supernatural force knocks them off one by one. Does it have some entertainment value for lovers of the genre? Sure it does. But when someone asks you what you thought and your only response is "meh," that’s a problem. And it’s certainly not the most terrifying film you will ever experience. Please.