The poster for the reboot of Sam Raimi's 1981 cult horror movie "The Evil Dead" promises that it is "the most terrifying film you will ever experience." Of course, that's hyperbole.
But there's no doubt that the new "Evil Dead" is likely the goriest film you'll ever see as first-time director Fede Alvarez pulls no punches in delivering a visceral, viscous movie that stays true to its bloody agenda, for good or ill.
It becomes immediately apparent that this is a different animal than Raimi's original, which was made on a shoestring and the change found in the director's couch. Slick production values are obvious from the start as is a no-holds-barred aesthetic, as in the movie's prologue we see a young woman burned to death by her father in some unnamed location.
Seems she was possessed by an evil spirit that had sent her on a murderous rampage, and the manner in which she's dispatched gives one a sense of what it must have been like to have a front-row seat at Joan of Arc's farewell appearance.
Wouldn't you know it, the location of this gruesome event just happens to be the cellar of a remote cabin in the woods where five young adults convene for an intervention. Brainy Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and his nurse girlfriend Olivia (Jessica Lucas) along with the beautiful Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and their friend David (Shiloh Fernandez) are trying to get his sister Mia (Jane Levy) to give up the drug habit that nearly killed her.
They make her go cold turkey, an approach that makes her flee the cabin in a mad dash. Unfortunately, Eric just happens to be reading from a mysterious book he's found while this is going on — which sets loose a malevolent demon that possesses Mia. Her friends find her despondent and drag her back to the cabin, thinking that her mad ravings, drooling at the mouth and inexplicable behavior are just symptoms of withdrawal. They couldn't be more wrong.
This twist is inspired and helps to justify why Mia's faithful friends stick by her as long as they do. Credit must also be given to co-writer Diablo Cody, an Oscar winner for her work on "Juno," for providing the unvarnished and at times clever dialogue. Together, these two are able to put a fresh spin on genre conventions and have us eager to see just how far they're going to push their characters.
It could be argued that anyone who continues to read a book in which is scrawled "LEAVE THIS BOOK ALONE!" after having cut off strands of barbed wire to open it deserves what they get. However, these five are put through the grinder as each suffers extreme injuries, the least being taking shots from a nail gun to the face.
This is not for the squeamish; Alvarez takes each violent act to the extreme. Each viewer has his or her own tolerance level, but I thought that the level of violence at play was fitting to the tale and ultimately becomes so extreme that it can't be taken seriously. In the end, it's better to sit back and be drenched in the movie's audacious approach rather than to try to find any socially redeeming qualities in it.
Special mention must be made of Levy ("Suburgatory"), as she throws herself into her role with abandon and is forced to endure all sorts of hardship in the process. She's game for everything Alvarez throws at her, having obviously endured hours to have her extensive makeup job applied as well as many physically demanding scenes she's required to perform in.
She comes out eager for more, and for true horror aficionados, this is the one you've been waiting for as Alvarez has created what some are saying is a new classic of the genre. They're not far from wrong.
'Evil Dead' (3 1/2 stars out of 4)
Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore and Jim McLarty.
Directed by Fede Alvarez; produced by Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert; screenplay by Diablo Cody and Alvarez.
A Sony Pictures release. 91 minutes. Rated R (strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language). At the AMC Village Mall 6 and Savoy 16.
Also new in theaters
"Host" hobbled by trite execution (2 stars). Author Stephenie Meyer does the same to Jack Finney's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" with "The Host" as she did to the vampire myth in "Twilight" — namely dumb it down with a sappy teen romance that's nearly impossible to take any of it seriously.
Which is frustrating because beneath the insufferable pap that takes the spotlight in the narrative are some intriguing ideas regarding identity, redemption and euthanasia.
Director Andrew Nichol, who's made some fine films in the past, including "Gattaca" and "Lord of War," recognized this as well. But he was saddled with Meyer's teen-centric plot and for some reason retained far too much of her dialogue.
The movie starts by taking far too much time explaining its premise — and does so in a way that invites napping. Seems an alien invasion has occurred in which benign, off-world souls have taken over the bodies of humans and in the process have eradicated war and famine while transforming the planet into a world of peace.
Sounds like a good idea on the surface, but the humans seem lifeless and unemotional, a fate small groups of resistance fighters want to avoid.
Among them is Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), who's taken by the aliens and has a soul implanted in her that ultimately goes by the name of Wanda. Unlike the rest of us puny humans, Melanie is a fighter and refuses to leave her body, resulting in an at times comical schizophrenic relationship with Wanda as they bicker about what they should do or whom they should love.
They finally come to the resolution that they should find the rest of Melanie's people — and here's where it really gets tangled. They reunite with Melanie's boyfriend Jarrod (Max Irons), but Wanda ends up falling for the equally hunky Ian (Jake Abel). What's a girl with an alien parasite to do?!?
Unfortunately, the film spends far too much time caught up in this trite love quadrangle, which sports such wonderfully cringe-inducing pieces of dialogue like "He's not even from this planet!," which Melanie screams at Wanda within the head they share. Yep, kinda kooky.
What isn't is the theme of change and adaptation that's bubbling below the surface. Not only is Wanda struggling with and being changed by the human feelings she suddenly has to contend with, but so is the Seeker (Diane Kruger), an alien charged with tracking down Melanie/Wanda who finds herself feeling anger and resorting to violence, very unalien-like characteristics.
That we can come to accept other's beliefs and are susceptible to changing for the better is a notion of tolerance and hope that all beings — human or aliens that look like woolly worms with lighted tendrils —should embrace. Here's hoping that "The Host's" audience won't be susceptible to the calculated love story at its center or laughing too hard at the movie's sophomoric dialogue.
"Retaliation" all sorts of dumb (1 star). I tried to get into "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." I really did. But I quickly disengaged, realizing that there was little substance to this confusing effort.
Channing Tatum returns as Duke, the leader of the elite military group known as the Joes. He and his crew are sent to Pakistan to make sure that their nuclear warheads don't fall into the wrong hands as their leader has been assassinated. Unfortunately, the unit comes under fire from their own forces, set up by the president (Jonathan Pryce), who's actually the nefarious Zartan in disguise. Seems he wants them gone so the evil cadre known as Cobra can take over the world.
Cobra forces have a nasty new weapon at their disposal, a series of satellites codenamed Zeus that, I think, drops metal rods from space that can destroy cities as they reach terrific speeds and their sheer impact creates massive seismic disturbances.
That I just used 126 words to describe the plot is about 124 more than it deserves. The film is aimed at teenage boys with the attention span of a gnat.
Director Jon M. Chu, who made the last two "Step Up" movies, has lost his eye for sharp choreography as the action is muddled and confusing, (a reflection of the film's story).
This is more video game than film, though it provides Bruce Willis an opportunity to collect an easy paycheck as Gen. Joseph Colton, the original G.I. Joe. If it took Willis more than a week to film his meager role, then he was overworked.
With little to redeem itself, though, "Retaliation" doesn't entertain as much as it bludgeons viewers into submission.
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