Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013)

This review should be prefaced by a confession: I went to see this movie with an enormous amount of jet lag. Sometimes you need a movie to keep you ticking over until an appropriate time in order to get your life back in order. By the same token, this review is also being written with the same aforementioned jet lag to achieve the same aims. Therefore, this could be the best Film Phage review you’ve ever read, or possibly one of the worst. That’ll only become apparent in two or three days when I’ve had time to look back on this and wonder why I should / shouldn’t do this more often. So, what movie did I choose to keep me awake following my trip to the Orient? Why, Evil Dead of course… it seems wholly appropriate that a horror movie should keep me alert and awake… shouldn’t it?

Clearly this means read me...

Clearly this means read me…

Evil Dead… the name’s familiar right? Yes indeed, you’re looking at the 2013 retelling / reimagining / regurgitating / re-something-ing of a Sam Raimi horror classic. Is this a horror classic that I’ve seen? Sadly, I’m going to attest to have never seen the original, but I know lots about it and its successors in the franchise. The premise of the film? An unholy book has the power to summon forth a demonic force that’s questing to consume souls in order to unleash an untold darkness on the world. Time and time again, people reopen the book, read its incantations and bring about all kinds of merry hell. So it’s no surprise to find that our intrepid group of 20-something’s have also stumbled upon this book whilst staging an intervention for one of their friends. Can they survive the onslaught?!

Evil Dead (2013)

It all sounds very Cabin in the Woods-y doesn’t it? As that film was intended to send up the genre in its own unique way, then that’s not entirely surprising. However, Evil Dead has tried to carve a niche for itself by billing itself as the most terrifying film of the year. Yawn… something we’ve heard time and time again, from film after film. But does this film achieve it? Well, if terror, for you, means buckets of gore and mutilation, then yes – this is certainly a decapitated head and shoulder socket above the rest. Wow, Evil Dead really doesn’t go lightly on the claret; there are gallons of the stuff. But does this appeal to me? Well, not in a horror fashion, no. As you’ll be aware, The Phage is a fan of cerebral horror that chills you after you’ve left the cinema… this isn’t one of those films.

That’s not to discredit the film as a whole, as it’s shot beautifully and exudes malice and grime in every shot. Especially when the possessions really start taking a grip. This is very noticeable with the lead, Mia (Jane Levy), because when she looks deranged and evil… well, she certainly achieves her aims. Credit needs to go to the effects artists and the vision of director / writer Fede Alvarez who’s done a bang-up job of revamping (re-zombie-ing?) the franchise for the 21st Century.

Evil Dead (2013)

Where the film falls flat for me is the fact that it’s all so very flat and transparent in terms of plotting. The acting sometimes comes across as hammy and the lead characters are as moronic as ever. We currently want our “meat” to have some brains in an attempt to outsmart the encroaching evil before it’s way too late. As I said at the outset, I’ve not seen the original Evil Dead, and I’m aware that this deviates somewhat from that plot, but still… it’s not deviated down a more complex avenue. It sometimes felt like I was watching a made-for-TV horror movie that you’d find on a cable channel late at night. Sure, the effects are lavish enough to merit it being a cinema-wide release, but you just can’t get away from the acting / character’s writing. Why don’t they just leave at the first instance instead of wading in until they’re in too deep?

Ultimately, Evil Dead is a re-imagining of Evil Dead for the new generation – the ones raised on the Saws of this world. You want gore? You got gore! But how about realistic gore, and not the comic kind? Then this is definitely your beast. However, if you’re seeking something more beneath all the blood and gore then you’ll be disappointed. It’s great to see horror relying more on visual disgust than cheap scare tactics, but that’s not enough for me to brand this a great movie… maybe when it’s reanimated in the inevitable sequel?

But maybe I was just too damn tired to really appreciate the film fully? It certainly kept me awake, but so too would a stroll down a street. I could argue that both would be equally scary. Have you ever tried walking along with your head flopping about like one of those nodding dogs that are left in cars? No? Well that’s my jet lag for you. It feels likes it’s wobbling around so much that it’s going to fall off my shoulders; much like some of the dismemberments seen in Evil Dead actually… So there may be some similarities between jet lag and reanimated corpses… or it may just be that I feel like the Evil Dead right now…?

Phage Factor:

3 Star

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The Possession (2012)

With so many movies based on “true stories” nowadays, you’ve got to applaud the current generation of screen-writers. Not because they’re doing a remarkable job adapting these “true stories”, but because surely it’s making their job of writing fiction so much more difficult? Demons? Please! They definitely exist, as Paranormal Activity has shown. Ghosts you say? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was covered in An American Haunting. Witches? Oh come on – The Blair Witch Project (probably) proved that. So what does The Possession – the newest “based on a true story” horror film bring to the table …? Yup, demons again. Fear not Twilight, we’ve not yet caught wussy “vegetarian” vampires on film…

As you may have astutely ascertained from the title of the film, the story revolves around the premise of demonic possession. Here, the tale focuses on a sealed box that is bought for young Em (Natasha Calis) by her dad, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Naturally, there’s something odd about the box – its sealed tight, but what lies inside? Yes indeed – some vengeful demon! Oh come on, that’s not a spoiler. What did you think it’d have in it? Coco Pops? Cue a demonic possession horror story that you’ve probably seen time and time again.

The trouble with the film is that it’s so derivative, although I must admit it’s hard for a writer to pen a tale of demonic possession and not have people say “oh, it’s like The Exorcist then?”. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that The Possession lurches from cliché to cliché of modern horror at a staggering pace. Firstly, there’s the lack of true scares. As with last year’s Insidious, we’re bombarded with ramped up sound effects to “scare” us. These aren’t scary – they’re startling and jarring. Then you have the target of the demon. If you had to picture someone in your mind, what would he / she look like? Young? Check. A girl? Check. Dark hair? A bit like Samara from The Ring? Well done – go collect 10 Phage points from the kiosk because that’s what you’re given! Why can’t someone break this tradition and cast a young, Indian boy as the target of the demon? At least that would be an attempt at being different.

In terms of the acting on display, I must say it wasn’t bad at all. Certain actors in the piece are actually the film’s redeeming feature. I thought 13 year old Natasha Calis acted very admirably and hit all the right notes. Too bad her make-up department decided that a look akin to a cross between Beetlejuice and the WWF’s Undertaker from circa 1994 was the correct way to emphasise she was “possessed” in the latter stages. However, it was Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen, The Losers) that really held the piece together playing a divorced dad with ambitions of coaching big league basketball. I know that the sub-plot of his basketball coaching was totally unnecessary, but I’d have been happy to see more of it. Or maybe I was hoping the film would turn into Moneyball with basketballs.

Samara from The Ring, by way of Beetlejuice and The Undertaker… Can’t guess she’s possessed at all…

But back on point, I thought Morgan really shone here, and he was clearly the most fleshed-out character in the script. This led to supporting roles such as older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) and the mother, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) coming across as extremely shallow and yes – clichéd – as neither believes in the possession until it’s too late. And before you wonder whether it at least ends in a unique way, then… no. I obviously won’t tell you what unfolds, but you probably already know in your heart of hearts if you’ve seen any horror film from the past 5 years.

They’re not an anti-Semetic family; they just love to get a bit rowdy when they headbang to Metallica.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s no point in writing stories of possession as they’re always clichéd. For instance, I thought 2010’s The Last Exorcism was a great take on the idea and was also a damn good film. Even The Exorcism of Emily Rose attempted something different, even if it did fall flat. I just don’t know why writers, directors and studios are succumbing to this horrible trend of loud noises equating to horror. I mean, this has Sam Raimi up on the posters (he’s a producer) – the man responsible for The Evil Dead – and still nothing innovative comes through. A true horror should insidiously work its way into your psyche and have your nerves shredded. As much as the series is lambasted by purists, at least Paranormal Activity (at least the first one) really draws the audience in and has them recoiling in terror owing to the tension. For me, no film has surpassed the terror pay-offs of Rec (original Spanish version) and The Ring. Those films ended with a bang and really had my nerves shot on first viewing. Sadly, The Possession comes no-where near these two juggernauts or anything Asian cinema has spat out recently.

The Possession isn’t the worst horror movie you’ll see this autumn as we close in on Halloween. That I can more or less guarantee. But it’s never going to be regarded as a classic, nor even “one to pick up on DVD”. I’d recommend a rental when it hits stores if you’re into possession stories, or if you’re looking to hook up with that girl from down the street when you have a DVD night. I’m not saying the content is erotic (unless she’s a really freaky chick), but at least it might have her jumping into your arms if you have the 5.1 booted up. Especially if she’s a Twilight fan, as all she’s used to is wussy vampires and wimpy werewolves. In fact, go grab that glitter, sprinkle it on your chest and then watch The Possession. If that doesn’t work, then I don’t know what will.

Aside from a winning personality, a stunning smile and a healthy disposable income.

Phage Factor: