Everyone's A Critic

Evil Dud kills in the box office, cash-grabs on reboot

By Kevin Cook

Ghost House Pictures’ “Evil Dead” remake/reboot, directed by Hollywood first-timer Fede Alvarez, is a shiny, expensive dud that lacks any of the original film’s heart — the quirky je ne sais quoi that rapidly propelled it to the highest echelon of “cult classic” status, where it has remained for more than 30 years.

The 2013 incarnation is loud, flashy, polished — the best movie money can buy. Yet even with a budget 50 times larger than the original’s, it manages to dramatically underwhelm and underperform.

“Evil Dead” lacks the idiosyncratic personality of Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic, “The Evil Dead,” and it is fitting that it bears this more general, run-of-the-mill title, sans definite article.

Raimi is back for another go-round as the co-writer and co-producer, but his most significant contribution was handpicking Uruguayan unknown Fede Alvarez to helm the new project. It’s tempting to characterize this film as nothing more than a blatant and unrepentant cash-grab (see Raimi’s 2007 disasterpiece Spider Man 3), but in handing over creative control to Alvarez, I suspect Raimi aspired to something of a renaissance for his “Evil Dead” franchise. His involvement was largely limited to his blessing upon Alvarez’s direction.

Alvarez is something of a mystery. “Evil Dead is his first feature-length effort, as either writer or director. He toiled for years in relative obscurity in Uruguay before breaking onto the scene in 2009 with Ataque de Pánico (Panic Attack), a YouTube video he conceived and produced for less than $500, clocking in just shy of five minutes running time. The video has received more than 7 million views to date and is without question one of the more polished amateur efforts on YouTube. What’s not clear is why it was enough justification for Raimi to hand over the reigns to a $17 million major motion picture.

“I uploaded Panic Attack! on a Thursday, and on Monday, my inbox was totally full of e-mails from Hollywood studios,” Alvarez said to the BBC regarding his YouTube fame. “If some director from some country can achieve this just uploading a video to YouTube, it obviously means that anyone could do it.”

While Alvarez was speaking specifically about his post-Panic Attack! notoriety, it is also a fitting commentary on his role in “Evil Dead” and on the film as a whole.

Anyone could do it. Anyone could have done it. While the gore is resplendent — an over-the-top clinic on bloody, unrepentant violence that reportedly never once stoops to computer-generated imagery — the film  lacks any other significant identity or personality.

And the cast is forgettable, at best. Jane Levy, who is charming and wry in her role as Tessa Altman in ABC’s “Suburgatory,” manages to turn in one of the most dour, uninteresting screen performances in recent memory. Yet she is unequivocally the highlight of the utterly unremarkable cast. I’ll waste no more time here on the blasé, uninspired performances phoned in by the cadre of twenty-something “actors.”

The script, co-written by Raimi and Alvarez, was “doctored” by Diablo Cody, whose stripper-memoir “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper” launched her to stardom and gave her a platform for 2007’s quirky, delightful “Juno.” However, so few of her edits and suggestions were incorporated into the film’s final cut that the Writer’s Guild of America ruled to exclude her from the final credits.

This, as evidenced by the final product’s dull dialogue and poor pacing, was an enormous mistake. Bruce Campbell, star of the original and co-producer on the reboot, said on Reddit, “We are remaking Evil Dead. The script is awesome… The remake’s gonna kick some (expletive) — you have my word.” I, for one, feel lied to.

The filmmakers did themselves a disservice with the remake’s tagline, which billed it as, “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.” It hardly lives up to the hype. The gore is superlative, no question, but it doesn’t amount to much in the way of real horror. It’s a sad commentary on my humanity (or lack thereof) that I have to be somewhat emotionally invested in a character to feel dismay or shock or terror when that character is hopelessly and brutally tortured but — there you have it. Awful, terrible things happen to these poor, one-dimensional souls. The effect is nil.

What is sadder is that this movie is not only senselessly slaying its characters, but also killing at the box-office. “Evil Dead” has grossed just a touch less than $62 million dollars, a profit of almost $45 million. Since no filmmaker is so altruistic and artistically pure that he can turn down free money (Spider Man 3), there’s the inevitable sequel.

This film not only does little in the way of entertainment and coherent storytelling but does so with infuriating glee and is already halfway through spawning this sequel, which can’t possibly be anything but worse.

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