Context can be important in movie review. It helps to understand the mindset the writer had going into the movie.
So here's what I was thinking going into "Evil Dead."
I'm a big fan of director Sam Raimi and the original "The Evil Dead." I'm an even bigger fan of "Evil Dead II," which is more of a remake than a sequel. But I don't think of it as a sacred work of art that shouldn't be tampered with or remade. Raimi and original star Bruce Campbell were involved as producers, so if they were cool with a remake, so was I.
And after hearing the buzz that came after its screening at the SXSW Film Festival, I was really looking forward to the movie.
Maybe my expectations were too high, but this "Evil Dead" left me cold.
It's a movie that produces more cringes than actual scares. It feels as if it's been reduced to a 90-minute version of "Can You Stomach This?" Director Fede Alvarez understands the physical reaction watching a blade slowly tear through skin (or, worse, a tongue) can produce, and he makes the audience feel the pain of the five people unfortunate enough to show up at that remote cabin in the Michigan woods and discover that book of the dead.
WHAT: "Evil Dead"
STARS: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore
STORYLINE: Five young people show up at a remote cabin in the words where they find a book of evil incantations. Bad things happen.
DIRECTOR: Fede Alvarez
RATING: R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language.
And they feel a lot of pain - from nail guns, chain saws, broken mirrors, amorous tree branches, flesh-eating demonic possessions, etc.
While Alvarez probably has a bigger budget than Raimi had for his three "Evil Dead" movies combined, this version has some of the same manic spirit as the original, relying more on inventiveness than computer-generated effects to gross out the audience.
But what is missing is the demented wit that made the series, especially "EDII," so much fun. Diablo Cody ("Juno," "Young Adult") is one of the credited screenwriters, but her touch is largely missing from the tone of the film.
"Evil Dead" has many parallels to the original, but it's not quite a remake. Five young adults arrive at a remote cabin in the woods, but instead of a spring break trip, it's an intervention to help Mia (Jane Levy) break her addiction to drugs. It's a smart shift, because when Mia starts acting weird and reporting strange things, the others attribute it to her withdrawal.
But the script has these people (Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore) do plenty of other stupid things. Here's a friendly word of advice. If you're staying in a cabin and you discover a hidden basement filled with animals that have been ritualistically murdered and hung from the rafters - Leave. Immediately.
When they finally do try to leave, rising water has washed out the road.
Part of the problem may be is that the movie doesn't really have an Ash, the character that Campbell played in the original who becomes the focus of the audience's attention and rooting interest. Mia's brother (Shiloh Fernandez) falls short in filling that storytelling role and when that function shifts to another character for the finale, the transition doesn't quite work.
Those who watch "The Walking Dead" solely to see what inventive ways they come up with to dispatch the zombies that week may be satisfied with Alvarez's use of blood and blades. As for me, I was hoping to laugh more or be jolted at least once.