Film Analysis: Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead (2013)
This is not a traditional film review, but a spoiler filled discussion of both the original and the remake of Evil Dead. Continue reading only if you have seen those films or if you don’t care for spoilers. Y’all have been warned!
The Original vs. The Remake
The first thing you notice when watching the new iteration of Evil Dead is that it looks completely different from anything in the original series. Cinematographer Aaron Morton seems to be taking a similar aesthetic approach to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) remake, only using a darker color palette or more generally to what has come to be a more polished and glossy look.
Most horror films today don’t look as ‘dirty’ or gritty as they did in the golden age of horror or exploitation. Partially responsible for this is Computer Generated Imagery (also known as CGI) and filming in or post-converting to 3D (neither of which was the case here fortunately). When watching the original Evil Dead there is a sense of physical presence of all the effects, of course that’s because they were ‘practical’ as opposed to ‘digital’. Now, I don’t care what effects you use, just as long as the film looks believable. This is a rare instance where the remake is superior in terms of “looking realistic”, except for a couple of scenes where I obviously thought “Yep, that’s CG”.
This new Evil Dead also cost fifty times more than the original (not counting inflation though). What does that mean? Well, for starters they had more time, a professional cast and more access to equipment. This may all sound positive, but is it? No. A smaller budget forces the filmmaker to get creative. Yes, there is more time pressure, but everyone has to give their best. Perhaps you have less takes to get it right, but you’re more motivated to do so. Raimi’s passion for the film could be felt while watching his film, here in this remake I can’t help but cynically think “They only did this for the money”. Of course every film wants to make money, but more money means more problems, namely more producers.
Why is more producers a bad thing? Studio execs are only profit oriented, and that’s understandable, movies cost a lot of money and investors want some kind of security. Unfortunately for the creative talent involved these producers often have no clue about what makes a good film, since they dabble in marketing and not art. Directors can be forced to change their film because it may not test well in screenings and so on. I don’t know about the remake, but for the original Raimi had auteur brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have a hand in the editing room.
The main inspiration for both films certainly was one of the greatest genre classics of all time: The Exorcist (1973). This is most visible in the make-up department, the demon creature design. Recently, and due to Diablo Cody’s involvement in the film I can also see bits and pieces of Jennifer’s Body (2009) in there, but also movies like Saw (2003) and the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw remake. In terms of atmosphere and set design a lot was borrowed from The Ring (2002), another remake. Story-wise though it’s a lot closer to Solstice (2008) (the list of remakes just won’t end!) and thematically The Last Exorcism (2010), which we recently found out isn’t really the last.
So far so good we’ve touched on some technical issues, but what about tone? How does this remake feel compared to the original? Well, the original was a splatter horror comedy with supernatural elements; this remake is a far more serious film. You could almost say it takes itself too seriously, but that’s because it’s concerned with trying to scare its audience. You might remember the posters claiming it was “the most terrifying film you’ll ever experience”. Far from it, still kind of successful.
Nevertheless, how is this remake trying to scare the audience? By throwing everything at the screen and see what sticks. Gore, demons and weird stuff: Anything will do. While the gore aspect is certainly strong in the original, here it feels almost out of place in some scenes, distracting the viewer. It takes away the great tension they managed to build, by showing too much. Remember: If you want to scare people, sometimes less is more, leave something to the viewer’s imagination.
Every good, self-respecting horror film has to have some kind of social commentary. I’m not saying they just threw that in here just because, but it does seem a bit too obvious, at least for me. The film is clearly trying to make a parallel between being possessed and being on drugs. What’s the solution to a demonic possession? An exorcism. How do you kick a drug habit? Detox. See what I mean?
Mia goes through hell (both literally and metaphorically speaking) to be freed from drugs. Of course certain drugs cause hallucinations, we all know that, so one could read the film as one giant fever dream (though I’m not sure many like this idea).
Another discourse going on in the Evil Dead remake is the juxtaposition of science and superstition. If in the old days we (as a society) would rely on clergy and religion to “solve our problems”, having blind faith in everything that came out of their mouths, now we’re more concerned with what they put in other people’s mouths, especially kids (hey!). Sorry for the crude joke there, what I mean to say is: Science has substituted Faith in a lot of ways. People believe in science: It’s the new dogma (not to be confused with dogme). In doing so we haven’t learned anything from the French enlightenment guys: The people have just found their new opium, as Marx would say. Wait, what? We’re back to drugs. Full circle, baby.
Evil Dead (2013) is a good remake, with some flaws in the script, a great performance by Jane Levy (as Mia) and some great tension. I highly recommend checking out the original before watching the remake. I do believe there is some good in both movies. Both are enjoyable for different reasons and their differences are what make this remake not as pointless as some of the repetitive carbon copies we’ve been getting in the past. There is some social commentary, yes, but it might also be just me reading too much into the movie as I generally tend to do.
That is all folks. Hope you enjoyed my first Film Analysis.
I am your Professor: Davide Perretta, signing off.
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Great review. I got to say, I really enjoyed this movie. I was nervous going in that it wouldn’t honor Sam Raimi’s masterpiece, but thankfully it played plenty of homage to the original. While part of me does miss the humor, I don’t mind that much since I got plenty of action and gore.
I finally got around to reviewing this movie on my own novice, review-blog. I could always use an experienced critic’s opinion to help me fine-tune my reviews. Check it out if you get the time.
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