Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't Watch This Movie: Evil Dead

I'll Eat Your Money!
I would like to quote you some big name sites trying to get you to throw away your cash next week when the Evil Dead remake comes out.

Bloody Disgusting gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
Horror Talk said it was "the most unrelenting and bloody horror film to come out of a major studio in a very long time".
IGN gave it 9 out of 10 stars and said it was "terrifying, exhilarating and relentlessly entertaining new chapter in the Evil Dead story".

So apparently nobody has seen the SAW franchise recently.
First of all, in the last decade, SAW and a few other films and franchises have defined how to make people uncomfortable in their seats. This movie, this iteration of Evil Dead, does nothing new in that regard. Gruesome dismemberment, loss of fingers, scarring of faces, we've seen it all before. Which is fine, as Solomon said 4,00 years ago, there's nothing new under the sun (Quote: The Bible).
I wish I was Bruce Campbell.
It's how you do something that matters, and whatever Evil Dead that was fresh almost forty years ago is now business as usual in the horror business. Not only are the gruesome scenes never anything new, especially considering the course of the horror genre over the last few years, but it fails to be truly scary. Now, if you're a gore fiend, I'm sure you'll find plenty to enjoy about the film. There's undoubtedly plenty there for people who like seeing human beings ripped to shreds.

I have a term, a "torture box". It's a movie scene explicitly set up in which a horror movie can do unspeakable things to an individual in order to invoke the maximum pain upon the individual in the scene, in order to produce the maximum discomfort among those in the audience. SAW almost defined this, since people were literally set in rooms where these events would occur. Many horror movies do this, and Evil Dead makes it explicit, by actually locking the doors of the protagonists when they step inside a room. They enter the torture box, gruesome pain is inflicted, audience is grossed out.
My reaction to having to rate this film.

Fairly predictable set up. So, how do you distance your film from its peers? How do you make a predictable setup intriguing, or at least worth investing in? For one, good writing would be a start. Evil Dead falls apart at every corner. Some will say it's just trying to follow in the cheesy source film it's based on, but there's a reason that doesn't work, and I'll get to that. Just follow me on this point for a second. The writing is just bad. Characters recite rhymes or poems invoking the coming mayhem and death. It's foreshadowing, but foreshadowing should have some subtlety. In Evil Dead, there is none. It's just laid out, as if to say hey, we're all going to die.

The writing extends to the characters. I'm not sure what era this movie is supposed to be taking place in, but the high school teacher is written and portrayed almost as a hippy. Having once been a high school teacher, I know none that act like this one does. Not that they don't exist, but the writers went for the cheesiest portrayal of a nerdish teacher they could have. Worse than the characterization, the characters all die from stupidty. As people are being scalded alive, carving their faces off, driving needles into one another and carving off their arms, the main protagonist argues this may all be a virus.
Hi! I'm a shambling stereotype.

Nobody in real life would act like these people do in circumstances like this.

So look, you've got a good setup for continual terror boxes. A cabin in the woods, secluded from the world, partially by an unexplainable flood, but whatever. You can induce your terror boxes in each individual at this point. However, from the outset, the audience knows the protagonist is too stupid to make smart choices. The audience knows every is going to die because of his stupidity. There's no suspense, no surprise, only the gruesome moment when the terror box is activated and somebody is mangled.

Speaking of that high school teacher, it's sad that he's the closest to a real character that we ever actually get in the film. While everyone else is busy being one dimensional, people acted upon rather than acting, the high school teacher actually has diverse sets of loyalties. First he has loyalty to his friend, the girl possessed in the film. He has ongoing tension with the protagonist, who he resents for leaving their circle years before. In the end, his love for said protagonist drives him to do things that aren't in his best interest, despite the repeated stupidity of the protagonist that constantly endangers their lives. Yet in the end, the writers are content to leave these threads dangling, or at best only touch upon them for the briefest instance. That's understandable considering the screenwriters for this film are terrible with dialogue and anything remotely approaching subtlety.
Let's Play "Can You Guess What's Happening Here?"
So before I really get into why this film doesn't work as an over-the-top descendent of its predecessor, let's recap. Stupid writing, leading to unnecessary death. Cliched characterization. Obvious setups with no sense of surprise or real tension. That there is no suspense building, sense of surprise or tension owes entirely to the lack of setup. The writers never bother challenging your expectations of what's about to happen, or allowing a scene to unfold in a way that's scary and genuinely disturbing. Just throw as much piss, blood and vomit onto the screen as possible and hope to gross people out.

Okay, so why doesn't it just work out as an over-the-top horror film? Because there's nobody you can like in the movie. The final survivor? Barely a player until the end. The majority of the cast? One note stereotypes that are acted upon by outside forces and that never act. While the whole film is busy going over the top, you never have one guy that really does the same and pulls it altogether. This is where the movie could have used a Bruce Campbell, because they fail to find anyone to remotely root for or enjoy. Without someone to pull the film together, to cheer on, it's just a subpar retreading of the source material, except without any of the shock factor given what we've seen in the last decade, and without any real attempt to build tension or suspense. It's sad, really.
Included because it's the greatest poster of all time.

Evil Dead is a film trapped in the past, trying to be over-the-top when we've already seen all this before. Even the "rape tree" has been imitated, except by barbed-wire things, in the original Silent Hill film. It gives us an uninteresting cast with nobody to root for, a series of expected murders, and little else. It's gruesome, not scary, so take that as you will. If you enjoy true fear, this isn't your film. If you like gore, you might enjoy it. Just know this genre of horror has been beaten to death over the last few years and Evil Dead does nothing new in that regard.

Rating: Don't Watch It!

An utter lie!

You'll scream about this movie, but not for the reasons it intended.

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