Before I watch a movie, I enter with both hope and skepticism in hand. Sounds contradictory, right? Well, not necessarily so. I come in the theater, or in class, hoping that the film I watch is of high quality but I am also open to getting disappointed. As the adage goes, “Expect the worst, but hope for the best.”
On that note, my pre-viewing opinion on Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead (2013) gravitated towards disappointment more than to hope; I am quite a cinematic purist in that I distrust remakes, sequels, and most reboots. I was aware that there was an original Evil Dead film, which was directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man series, Drag Me to Hell) and is considered a horror film classic. With those in mind, I questioned the very existence of the new movie. If Sam Raimi’s film was so iconic, why would the world need another version of it? Why would anyone risk to desecrate perhaps one of the greatest horror films of all-time?
And well, I was blown away. Much like with Deadgirl, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. As the credits started rolling, I was so overwhelmed with emotion because I did not know how to articulate the joy I experienced with the film. If I were to encapsulate my reaction to Evil Dead, it was a horror film that got almost everything right.
First of all, I am having trouble with getting my gushing out of the way so I will start with a very simple analysis. According to Graham Sleight, horror films can be classified in numerous ways, from the trope-based to move-based approach. What is wonderful about this film is that it passes even the most basic approaches in horror film classification. I want to focus on the first two classifications of Sleight: the trope-based and the effects-based ones. Evil Dead works as a horror film in the trope-based approach, as it includes jump scares, demonic possessions, and rains of blood. What I appreciate about the film is that even with those conventions, the film WORKS. (Sleight)
This leads me to the effects-based approach, and boy, Evil Dead passes with flying colors. I still remember my seatmates, Noel and Nina, just being as scared as I am in every twist and turn of the film; we’d close our eyes, shout, and feel our hearts thumping as the film ratcheted up the tension. And the feeling is not exclusive to us; once , I looked around the classroom during the movie and the standard horror film reactions were seen. On just the most basic approaches to classifying horror film, Evil Dead can already be construed as a bonafide horror film. (Sleight)
Now, for this entry, I will do something different from other entries: I will focus more on the film in itself rather than the analysis. As I stated earlier, I cannot help but gush about the movie. So let’s start with the acting. Shiloh Fernandez appears in Evil Dead and it is remarkable how he exuded a different aura from his performance in Deadgirl. With the latter, Fernandez taps into a creepy “nice-guy” persona but in the case of the former, he adopts a more assured persona. In my opinion, Fernandez’s acting is quite a step-down from Deadgirl, but it is not at all distracting. His quiet, steely David is convincing as a tormented brother and as a false “horror lead”.
Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci, and Elizabeth Blackmore all do their duties well as the supporting cast. Jessica Lucas, in particular, gives a horrifying turn as Olivia; when she became possessed by the demon, she was able to create real portent as she crawled to kill Pucci’s Eric. As for Pucci, his comedic line readings are delivered on the spot, with his role rightfully hearkening to the spirit of Sam Raimi’s films.
But the true revelation here in Evil Dead is Jane Levy as Mia, who was possessed by the titular demon. It is already difficult enough that she had to play the possessed for most of the film but she also had to play the “final girl” in the last scenes. Levy barely goes over-the-top with her possessed Mia, lending a sort of realism to her role. When Levy does so though, it’s for intentional comedic effect. As for her role as the “final girl” in the last scenes, Levy adds spunk to what could have just been a conventional”scream queen” situation; her line deliveries are apt to the ridiculousness and the goriness of the cinema’s universe.
A great amount of credit should be handed to Fede Alvarez, who is the film’s director and, along with Rodo Sayagues, screenwriter. It would have been easy to dismiss the need for Evil Dead, especially since its premise has been deconstructed with 2011’s Cabin in the Woods. However, Alvarez and Sayagues make inspired choices with their screenplay. They opened with an action-paced in medias res sequence, which depicted a hunt for a possessed girl. Although the screenplay’s laying out of the rules lacked subtlety, it was not for naught. The film suggested that the monster could be killed by live burial of the host, bodily dismemberment, or by burning. What was genius was that Alvarez framed it as if one of the three ways would do the trick; in reality, the main characters had to do ALL to kill the monster, a fact that was made subtle in the film.
Evil Dead also functions subtly as a self-aware film. Alvarez plays the “remake” reputation of the film to his advantage and uses that to play with Shiloh Fernandez’s role. Fernandez’s David functions as a substitute of the original Evil Dead‘s lead, Ash (played by Bruce Campbell); it is useful to note that Ash was the survivor of the original film and became the protagonist in its sequels. Thus, Alvarez builds up David as the horror lead but alas, David perishes. Alvarez knows that certain audience members have watched the original film and is savvy enough to overturn these expectations.
Finally, Alvarez’s directorial touch is probably one of the finest I have witnessed in horror films. His camerawork melds action with horror, as with the sequence of the demon chasing Mia near the beginning of the film, and comedy, as seen with Eric’s comedic lines. He also knows how to build tension with sets, as he uses the expanse of the cabin and its rooms economically to craft a frenetic atmosphere. Compared to other horror filmmakers, Alvarez recognizes that horror film is not just designed to be a serious reflection of the Other; he also knows that horror is a place for escapist entertainment and he delivers immensely with this product. In a way, Alvarez makes a strong case as the heir apparent of mainstream horror filmmakers such as Raimi and Wes Craven. It must be noted that Raimi (and Bruce Campbell) produced the film; I guess the legendary director already saw the passing of the torch happen before all of us did.
Evil Dead is not an atmospheric or psychologically affecting horror film. But it is a blood-spattering, scream-inducing, and gut-wrenching one. It is a horror film that embraces the genre’s tropes and finds a way to turn them into a joyous, cathartic experience. If you want to shout your heart out with your friends or an entire audience, then this film is perfect for you.
“The Evil Dead (1981).”IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083907/>
“Evil Dead (2013).” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1288558/>
Sleight, Graham. “Storying Genres.” Vector Magazine, n.d. Accessed 1 February 2017. <http://www.bsfa.co.uk/www.vectormagazine.co.uk/article.asp%3FarticleID=48.html>