The biggest reservation people seem to have about the new Evil Dead, people in my circle of friends anyway, is that it’s not funny. It’s a valid reservation. If the idea of Evil Dead without the humor- which is to say, a boilerplate gore movie- doesn’t appeal to you, then don’t see this movie. There’s nothing in it for you. But the part of that reservation I don’t think holds much water is that an Evil Dead film without humor is inherently pointless. While the humor and personality of the originals is what gave them a wider appeal, I think it’s worth remembering that the original Evil Dead film was not funny. The original Evil Dead was an attempt to create an extreme gore film. That attempt was eventually subverted when the original filmmakers’ sense of humor and distinct personality proved impossible to suppress, steering the films in an, admittedly, much more worthwhile direction. (Not to mention the third film, Army of Darkness, and Bruce Campbell’s increasingly hammy public persona permanently softening the reputation of a series of films that had previously been primarily known for the original’s X rating and being highly controversial in England.) But the new Evil Dead is an attempt to deliver on that original promise of unadulterated, grueling terror. And true to the original intent of the series, it is gruesome, repulsive, and shocking. Depending on whether or not you’d consider that last sentence to be a mark against or for the film, you will either hate or be thrilled by it.
I don’t mean to imply that the new Evil Dead is completely devoid of personality. Its demented supernatural elements and the over-the-top nature of the gore imbue it with some character, although much less than Sam Raimi’s direction and Bruce Campbell’s performance injected into the originals.
The writing is also, for a movie of this caliber, surprisingly competent. The character work is half good and a clever plot device, namely that the protagonist experiencing withdrawal from a severe cocaine addiction, manages to finally find a reasonable excuse for keeping the kids at the cabin way past when shit starts getting weird.
I was a little apprehensive about Stoker going in, only really being a fan of one of the three movies by the director that I had seen previously (loved Lady Vengeance, was indifferent toward Oldboy, and hated Thirst). At first I found it difficult to stomach Chan-wook’s visual poetry and glassy-eyed melodrama. This could be due to the fact that I might not be as open to that style when presented in English. And while that’s on me, the problem was exacerbated by the performance of the lead actress, often a dead fish, and by Kidman playing it a little too artificially. But once the fluff started to become weighted by the evolving mystery, I was enthralled by the proceedings, hook, line, and sinker. And as with any Chan-wook film, there’s no shortage of carefully orchestrated, effective sequences and moments. There was a bit of sound design where India drinks a glass of wine that really took my breath away, the montage where she rejects Uncle Charlie’s offers of assistance was a welcome bout of levity, and the sequence centered around Philip Glass’s stunning duet really does the piece justice. The movie ultimately draws its power from showing us ghoulish monsters, every bit as unnerving as vampires or ghosts, presented as mere humans.
The Ward, horror film luminary John Carpenter’s first film after a ten year gap, is set in the year 1966, takes place in a mental asylum for young hotties that’s haunted by a ghost, and that’s it. It kind of feels like a letdown for Carpenter to return to the field with something that would have felt slight even if it were released during the time of his most prolific output, but on the other hand The Ward is simply boilerplate Carpenter. If you’re let down by getting exactly what you’re told you’re getting out of this thing by virtue of it having Carpenter’s name over the title, then that’s on you. If put in the context of modern mainstream horror this thing is shot really well, respects the audiences intelligence enough to let them sit around for a while while the tension builds, and contains a few striking images. I’ll take it, happily.
So there are a few hurdles the audience has to clear in order to enjoy this movie, but you couldn’t fault anyone for not being willing to clear them. The most predominant issue is that Beyond the Black Rainbow is all style, no substance. There’s no shortage of stunning photography on display here, and the filmmakers have absolutely nailed their chosen aesthetic and vague storytelling technique, but there’s no significant intellectual component to this that I was able to detect.
But if the style is gripping enough, a lack of content can sometimes be compensated for, at least somewhat. To that end, Beyond the Black Rainbow was, for me, mostly passable. The photography is stunning, with no shortage of tricks utilized and no subtlety left on the table. The compositions are striking, the color is bold, and the soundscape is like a rich painting. All of these things serve an aesthetic meant to resemble late 70’s/ early 80’s genre work, especially Kubrick’s.
But this type of extravagance is most effective when bolstering your investment in story, and I was left pretty cold here in that regard. I had trouble finding anything to invest myself in. The lead character is a distant mystery full of repressed fury who I was unable to identify with. The story surrounding him, revolving around a conceptually generic, menacing science institute, left little to wonder about. It’s seemingly sole subject, a young girl, might have been a good place to let the audience find their footing, but she has relatively little screen time. Only once she makes her escape did I start to become invested in the story, but it was too little too late.
Mostly, you are in awe of the filmmaking, but only in a way you can look at and respect, not in a way that is emotionally effective. There are a few powerful scenes, but they mostly work on a purely sensory level, triggering our instincts to tell us to be scared or disturbed. Only once does the movie manage to link the two, when the test subject learns the identity of the facility’s macabre guardian, and a connection is made. Other than that, this movie is for photography and 80’s genre film fetishists only, but they are bound to appreciate it.
- I liked this movie a lot. The biggest reason, I think, are the performances of the two leads. Especially the female lead, Sarah Paxton. Her character is completely real, an actual person who has strengths and weaknesses and a distinct personality instantly recognizable as genuine. The whole movie is hangs on enjoying watching her, and it hangs well.
- The filmmaking is strong, and mostly of the “when you do a good job, no one will ever know you did anything at all” variety. There is one distinct quality however- long, anticipation building pauses. The filmmakers seem to take special glee in letting you know something’s coming, but putting it in an unexpected place that scares you anyway. If you’re in the appropriate atmosphere to get caught up in these moments, they’re a lot of fun.
- My one complaint about The Innkeepers is that it’s too linear. There’s nothing unknowable for us to cast our imagination into.
- It would be hard for someone who doesn’t watch a lot of horror movies to see why this is a good one. In a genre where rote filmmaking and general tastelessness are the default, it’s a rare treat to see a well crafted and well acted horror movie actually capable of freaking you out and making you jump.
Hot damn, not only is this a great movie but it’s one that’s presented in a way that a narrow-minded genre fan like me can enjoy. I felt like i enjoyed this more than I’ve enjoyed any piece of entertainment in a long time. I felt like I could have watched it again, immediately. This and The Fountain have cemented Aronofsky as a director that I’m really interested in. 4.5
Sometimes you’re all like “Hey, it’s Halloween. I’m going to get a scary movie. But not just any scary movie. I’m going to get one I’ve never seen before. I’m going to find a new scary movie. Someone told me this one was good a few years back. It looks kind of cheap, but has positive quotes from institutions I’ve heard of on it” and you get it and it’s awful, features endless scenes of some boring family on vacation, and you turn it off halfway through because you just can’t take it anymore and three weeks later you read the ending on Wikipedia and are kind of curious to see what the monster looks like but really don’t care. 1.5