starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas
screenplay by Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues, based on the screenplay by Sam Raimi
directed by Fede Alvarez
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. The greatest irony of Fede Alvarez's otherwise laudably straightforward reboot of Sam Raimi's Spam-in-a-cabin classic The Evil Dead is that the moments where it references its primogenitor are actually the movie's weakest. I'm thinking, in particular, of handsome young hero David (Shiloh Fernandez) getting thrown around a wet cellar in high Raimi smash-zoom style, which only underscores how much the original films drew their tone from Bruce Campbell--and how much this new one misses him. The danger of casting a group of beautiful people and taking itself deadly seriously (and jettisoning the "The," in a gesture that reads as hipster insouciance) is that Evil Dead might draw closer to the mainstream and farther from its grindhouse roots. The small miracle of it, then, is that in both its absolute glee in finding the line of how much gore to show and then crossing it (a pair of glasses stop a hypodermic needle...but only for a moment) and its surprising efforts at locating a deeper thread in a frayed brother/sister relationship and the impact of drug addiction, Alvarez's film is a solid, even affecting genre piece that allows for an abundance of memorable money shots. Compare its intelligence and earnestness, its infernal energy, against the disrespectfulness and self-satisfaction of The Cabin in the Woods to see that Evil Dead is not just a taste of the old religion, it's really pretty great.
Even better, though, is the closer look at ideas of love and accountability as our players cheerfully kill their significant others, yet choose to die for their sisters and brothers. There's a conversation about the "beauty myth," as well as a certain exploitation of the male gaze in the mini-melodrama between the teacher (Lou Taylor Pucci) and his nurse girlfriend (Jessica Lucas) and indeed between David and his sweetheart (Elizabeth Blackmore)--the two women disfiguring themselves in front of their partners before being murdered by them. ("David, why are you hurting me?") Consider, too, the events leading up to the girlfriend's death as she descends into the unconscious, "raped" by Mia, who forces cunnilingus before forking her tongue (an image burned into my head by the instantly-notorious red-band trailer) and offering her brother fellatio, and who will later sing David a lullaby taught them by their mother. It's unbelievably fertile ground, this Evil Dead, ripe for excavation for its notions of love, of the dangers of perpetuating ideas of female attractiveness, and of the brutal fallout of rape. And at the end, it's ripe for a conversation about the difference between the people you choose in your life and the people chosen for you. It only helps that Evil Dead is disgusting and fun. From a longer review originally published here.
Sony brings Evil Dead ('13) to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p transfer with crisp detail and amazing dynamic range. The colour palette, largely muted until the climactic bloodbath, looks rich and earthy, and for a digital production, shot with Sony's CineAlta (a camera typically reserved for sleek sci-fis like Oblivion and After Earth), it feels remarkably gritty, with the interplay of rustic textures and inky viscera making up for the absence of grain. While I missed Evil Dead in theatres and found some of the CGI-enhanced gore conspicuous (the infamous jaw-rip, for instance), truly, it's hard to take isssue with this image at the authoring level. Reproducing a vivid mix with due thunder, the accompanying 5.1 DTS HD-MA track is even harder to fault. The discrete soundstage is consistently exploited to the fullest without ever becoming abrasive, and if there's a borderline cartoonishness to the gross-out sound effects (indeed, the movie's violence seems a hair less graphic on mute), it's counterbalanced by an almost disconcerting credibility to the constant, omnipresent rainfall, or the way the subwoofer is used to create floor-level effects when the action's focused on a trapdoor to the cellar.
A slew of making-of featurettes begins with "Evil Dead: Directing the Dead" (7 mins., HD), an introduction to Fede Alvarez's directing style that finds the cast singing his praises for involving them at the script stage (there is brief footage of a table-read I wish we saw more of) and generally fostering a sense of trust that Alvarez took advantage of, going so far as to abandon Shiloh Fernandez in the woods to get him all shook up before a take. In "Evil Dead: The Reboot" (10 mins., HD), producer Robert Tapert claims that long-time collaborator Sam Raimi was the "biggest proponent" of the remake while Bruce "Ash" Campbell was against it. Campbell then chimes in to say the trio asked themselves, honestly, what was the likelihood that they'd ever actually do a fourth Evil Dead together, and came to the conclusion "not very high." Much doublespeak spews forth from the interviewees, including screenwriter Rodo Sayagues, to rationalize the lack of an Ash counterpart in the update. For what it's worth, clips herein from Panic Attack, the viral short that got Alvarez the job, made me wonder why it wasn't included in full, the way the inspiration for Mama was on Mama's Blu-ray release.
"Evil Dead: Making Life Difficult" (8 mins., HD) is about the production's physical and psychological toll on the movie's stars. Jane Levy, at once more childlike and more contemplative than her alter egos tend to be, seems shattered by the experience despite chiding herself for sounding like a self-indulgent actor. She speaks of discovering "limits" to her health (physical and mental) whilst staring off into space, her face devoid of makeup, and it's frankly as haunting as anything in Evil Dead proper. Most of the on-set B-roll she appears in shows an actress at the end of her tether, barely acknowledging Alvarez's sympathetic pleasantries as she storms past him. In light of this piece, the next one, "Evil Dead: Being Mia" (9 mins., HD), feels a bit like overkill. Still, I liked Levy observing the "iconic" image of Evil Mia, wearing just a slip and covered in burns and thorns, and "Jane"'s ensuing video diary allows for a slightly more novel, more personal approach to the obligatory makeup-chair segment. Lastly, "Evil Dead: Unleashing the Evil Force" (5 mins., HD) is a walkthrough, more or less, of the Book of the Dead, recreated for this film with a present-tense history layered in to commemorate modern brushes with the havoc it creates.
There is also a feature-length commentary--optionally subtitled--with director Alvarez, writer Rodo Sayagues, and actors Levy, Jessica Lucas, and Lou Taylor Pucci. Conversation flows at a clip, and lots of peculiar details bubble to the surface--that a disfigured extra, for instance, really looks that way as a result of having survived not one but two plane crashes. Levy has this offhand way of saying "after I've been raped by a tree" that cracks me up (although no one dares laugh), though I sometimes had trouble distinguishing her voice from Lucas's. I appreciated Alvarez's consistent trainspotting of homages to The Evil Dead (some aren't as obvious as others), as well as the impromptu referendum on whether it's believable that Pucci's character opens the Book of the Dead. Rounding out the disc, HiDef trailers for Olympus Has Fallen, Breakout, Magic Magic, Dead Man Down, The Call, and The Last Exorcism Part II cue up on startup and can be individually selected from the "previews" sub-menu; a keepcase insert contains instructions for downloading an Ultraviolet copy of the film.