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Monday
Apr152013

Scary Movie 5 (2013)

What Possessed Them?

I haven't watched Scary Movie in years, but I remember liking it a lot. In the same way Scream salvaged the horror wasteland that was the 1990s, the Wayans Brothers' hard-R slasher send-up proved that parody movies hadn't died with The Naked Gun 33 1/3 or National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1. The film succeeded, in part, by setting its sights on Scream and its most popular clone, I Know What You Did Last Summer--thereby brilliantly deconstructing horror movies and movies that deconstruct horror movies.

As Scary Movie became a bona fide franchise, the sequels' targets grew increasingly scattershot: perhaps the filmmakers didn't realize they were living through a torture porn craze, but they certainly missed the mark by making 8 Mile and Spielberg's War of the Worlds the low-grade fuel in their clunky money machine. Consistent with the ebb and flow of its root genre, the series fizzled out in 2006, and has now been resurrected at a time when horror appears to have come (briefly, I'm sure) back in vogue.

Understand this: there's nothing wrong with making a Scary Movie 5. In fact, there's no better time for it. With odd blockbusters like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and The Devil Inside, not to mention an undead army's worth of remakes stinking up the box office, there's more than enough material for the right team to make a hilarious commentary on our bloody, sad state of affairs. The key term in that rambling mess of a sentence is, of course, "the right team".

If I told you that the writers behind Airplane!, Real Genius, and the first Naked Gun were responsible for Scary Movie 5, would you give it a chance?

I definitely would have, but I went into the theatre unaware that David Zucker and Pat Proft had anything to do with this production. Aside from a few out-of-place (i.e. funny) moments, there's nothing on screen to suggest this was written by anyone but fans of Zucker and Proft's classic comedies who have no idea what makes them work.

The framing device this time out is Paranormal Activity. Dan (Simon Rex) and Jody (Ashley Tisdale) move into a house after the previous occupants (Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan) are attacked by supernatural beings. Almost immediately, the story splits off into a parody of Mama, as the couple adopts Sheen's three feral children--who are also accompanied by a ghost. Bring on the sped-up-surveillance-camera gags and ultra-religious-but-nastily-sexual-Mexican-maid jokes!

Had Zucker, Proft, and director Malcom D. Lee stuck to skewering only these films, Scary Movie 5 might have amounted to something. Instead, we learn that Dan works as a geneticist and Jody is an aspiring ballet dancer--which plummets us down the rabbit hole of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Black Swan parodies. We're also treated to a 50 Shades of Grey bit starring Jerry O'Connell and Mike Tyson; random appearances by a Madea-type character; and interludes featuring two stoners who stumble upon a cabin in the woods (one of whom is played by Snoop "It's Snoop Lion Now" Dogg).

The freshest ingredient in this mess is the Black Swan portion--thanks to J.P. Manoux's cartoonish take on Vincent Cassel's aggressive dance instructor character and a neat twist on the train-entering-the-tunnel metaphor (tweaked to interpret lesbian sex as a raunchy, giggle-worthy montage of silliness). But Black Swan came out three years ago. Are teenagers really clamoring for over-the-hill ballerina gags involving Molly Shannon and Heather Locklear?

It's especially confusing, given the movie's strongest, most surprising detour: a sharp takedown of the Evil Dead remake. With such a fresh release, I'm guessing either Lee and company saw a rough-cut or they're simply prescient and astute enough to predict the innumerable ways in which Fede Alvarez's cloning experiment would fail. The setup is Bugs-Bunny thin and finds Jody and rival dancer Kendra (Erica Ash) in a cabin basement reading from the Book of the Dead while a group of Christian teenagers conduct a Bible study upstairs. The book contains a powerful possession spell, as well as a "safe word" to instantly call off the demons. We cut between the clueless girls downstairs and the gang upstairs as they are alternately compelled to sever limbs and collapse in crying, confused heaps every few minutes.

In execution, if not in concept, this works very well. It helps that Bow Wow, Katrina Bowden, and Sarah Hyland, three young actors whose acting chops shine through their "It Kid" sheen, are so much fun to watch. I was also surprised at how effectively Lee re-created the look and feel of Raimi's Evil Dead movies. He clearly understands them in a way that Alvarez does not, and I was more entertained and surprised by his five-minute spoof than by any of the "legit" remake's ninety torturous minutes.

Another thing Scary Movie 5 has going for it is, I guess, a meta observation that will mean little to people who don't consider movies in the greater pop context.* Ashley Tisdale, a former Disney star, transitions from High School Musical teen sensation to a genuine comedic actress here. In the same way Anna Faris rose above the (admittedly stronger) material of the first Scary Movie, Tisdale proves to be more than just a pretty face. Whether that's due to real chops, competent direction (stop laughing), or the fact that Simon Rex is such an affable non-presence remains to be seen. Whatever the case, I'm curious to see where the actress goes next.

The meta part comes in the form of a question: Is Tisdale choosing this role as her grown-up break-out any less dignified than her HSM co-star Vanessa Hudgens' signing on for the boobs-and-bullets snooze-fest, Spring Breakers? I argue that Tisdale took the high road, demonstrating talents that may actually take her places, rather than relying on the shock value of a child star swearing, disrobing, and pretending to murder people to book more gigs.

(If you're keeping score, yes, I just implied that Scary Movie 5 is a better film than Spring Breakers.)

I can't recommend Scary Movie 5 as a straight-up entertainment experience. But there's a lot going on here that people who love movies can sink their teeth into. Why do these fifteen gags fail where this one succeeds? Are the movie's once-great writers truly past their prime, or simply at the mercy of executives demanding that they appeal to brain-dead, fart-joke-loving teenagers? How can a film be so cryogenically frozen, pop-culturally, that it thinks audiences will give a shit about unfunny Inception gags--and yet nail the problems from a movie that came out a week before its own release?

No one else is likely to recommend a tired fourth sequel so hampered by its PG-13 rating that half the dialogue appears to have been clumsily ADR'd. But I'll go out on a limb and say you should give this thing a whirl-- for reasons that have nothing to do with watching an actual comedy. In fact, wait for Redbox or Netflix. We don't want anyone getting ideas about setting Scary Movie 6 in motion.

Note: Much of Scary Movie 5's promotional features scenes from Lindsay Lohan's three-minute opening cameo, in which she plays herself. I'm all for self-parody, but it's hard to laugh at a pre-recovery alcoholic drug addict who carries on as if those demons were exorcised years ago. The movie kicks off on an extremely distasteful note; fortunately, it's salvaged by tons of lame, grade-school dick jokes. 

*Hear that? It's the Pretension Alarm!

Wednesday
Apr102013

Trance (2013)

Snap! Fizzle! Plop!

As the end credits rolled on Trance, my friend Matt shoved his thumb in my face with a probing, "Enh?" Like a haywire Geiger counter, it wavered between "Thumbs Up" and "Thumbs Down". My Siskel/Ebert Scale was well-calibrated, or so I thought, and my thumb shot firmly up. I admitted that the movie had completely lost me in its middle third, but director Danny Boyle brought me back from the brink with his off-the-wall climax. It turns out, I may have still been under Boyle's spell as the lights went up: by the time I got home, I'd realized his latest film isn't very good.

Boyle is a hard director to pin down. After his quirky, gritty drug trip Trainspotting shot him into the stratosphere, he dabbled in comedy, drama, horror, and sci-fi before stepping into the rarified air of Oscar-winning Filmmakers. He took the statue for Slumdog Millionaire and was nominated for 127 Hours. I hated both movies, seeing them as stylistically authentic to Boyle's voice, but devoid of the grit, smarts, and soul on which he'd built his career.

I went into Trance knowing very little about the plot and not having seen so much as a trailer. But from the opening minutes, I knew this was a return to form. As Simon (James McAvoy) walks us through an Ocean's Eleven-style art-auction heist, complete with a visual history of such schemes, I immediately recognized him as an alternate-universe, adult version of Trainspotting's Mark Renton character. Working-class and untrustworthy as hell, but looking and sounding like an utter sophisticate, he narrates the very public, very violent theft of Goya's Witches in the Air.

Simon works for the auction house, but has also taken a job as the inside man on Franck's (Vincent Cassel) team of armed, suit-wearing thugs. He has gambling debts to pay, you see, and has fallen into such a deep, paranoid hole that he feels compelled to rip off even his criminal-mastermind boss. During an awkward showdown, Franck cracks Simon on the head with a shotgun, not realizing Simon had stashed the painting and delivered him an empty security case.

Simon wakes up with partial amnesia. He remembers his official and unofficial jobs, as well as both employers, but can't recall where he hid the £27 million painting. Determined to shake the mystery free, Franck enlists the services of a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson).

My synopsis ends here. If you plan to see Trance, it's best to do so with as unspoiled a mind as possible. As I said, the last twenty minutes are pretty terrific, and make a great bookend to Boyle and co-writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge's intriguing setup. But not long after Elizabeth enters the story, the movie takes a dramatic left turn into love triangle territory, entangling Franck, Simon, and Elizabeth in a head-scratching, uninteresting mess that only makes sense in the context of the climactic, Usual Suspects-style monologue that peels the narrative onion down to a nub.

I wanted so badly to leave during the film's middle. Personal policy, combined with a train-wreck fascination regarding the story's direction, kept me strapped in (strapped in but fidgety, I should say). I was also entertained by Trance's atmosphere, which is classic Boyle, through and through. From Anthony Dod Mantle's crazy, in-camera visual musings to Rick Smith's hypnotic and chameleonic score, the feel is never dull--even when the characters and their motivations are exceedingly so. Not even the sight of an utterly nude, utterly shaved Rosario Dawson could loop me back into Caring Mode, because it seemed like a cheap ploy to keep audience members from rushing the exits.

The frustrating thing is, there's a legitimate story reason for the hairless pie. It's buried in the movie's exposition-heavy climax, a mostly great scene that answers every nagging question and makes sort-of-okay all the weird love-triangle bullshit--while also crumbling into a gag-me-cute finale that should have never been written, much less filmed. Simon and Elizabeth's stories are much darker and deeper than anyone could have imagined at the outset, and were it not for the uneven quality of the rest of the picture, I'd hail Trance as one of the year's best.

But a handful of good scenes, a legitimately great one, and a gallery's worth of sub-par ones does not make a movie worthwhile. I'm sad to report that not even the engaged, powerhouse cast can overcome the clumsy material enough to recommend this as a performance piece. I'll probably watch Trance again in a few years, just to see if I can finally appreciate that sagging middle. Until then, I can only dismiss Boyle's latest effort as a hybrid of his sassy, London-underground roots and the grotesque, statue-grabbing gloss that has plagued his recent work.

Note: This will be the weekend of dueling Trippy Identity-Theft Films: Trance and Upstream Color. For a less visually dazzling but far more intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally satisfying time at the movies, seek out Shane Carruth's new feature, and be truly entranced.

Tuesday
Apr092013

Jurassic Park (1993)

They Spared No Expense

With 3D carnival rides clogging up the multiplex for the last several years, it's fitting that Steven Spielberg's dinosaur-amusement-park epic Jurassic Park get an "enhanced" 20th anniversary re-release. You're right to be skeptical. Most up-charge "event" movies are gaudy, ADD crap. But if adding bells and whistles to a bona fide blockbuster classic is what it takes to get Jeff Goldblum and a T-Rex back on the big screen, I say, "Bring on the glasses!"

Before last week, I hadn't seen Jurassic Park all the way through since it first hit theatres, and had forgotten how great it is. I appreciate the movie now more than I did as a teenager, probably because I've endured a lot of empty, mega-budget popcorn commercials in the years since. Just as Spielberg's Jaws gave birth to the summer blockbuster in 1975, so did Jurassic Park open up the floodgates of bombastic CGI extravaganzas in 1993. He couldn't have known at the time that his five-minute dinner debate about the ethics of genetic manipulation would devolve into twenty-minute action figure brawls, so I won't begrudge him the sour fruits of his genius.

For the uninitiated, Jurassic Park concerns an island amusement park of the same name. Created by eccentric millionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), and plagued by nervous investors ahead of its grand opening, the massive game reserve/tourist attraction houses dinosaurs who've been resurrected via the magic of fossilized mosquito blood and frog DNA (as well as movie magic, considering the lack of velociraptors tearing up my lawn). A lawyer (Martin Ferrero) representing Hammond's backers insists that the park be endorsed by industry-renowned scientists. A few well-placed bribes later, Hammond hosts archaeologists Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill)--as well as brilliant, wise-cracking mathematician Ian Malcom (Goldblum)--for a weekend of exploration in his sprawling, nu-prehistoric wonderland.

Because this is a movie, the trip becomes a disaster. Hammond's unscrupulous tech guru, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) shuts down the compound's security systems in order to steal some dino DNA for a competitor; this coincides with a severe storm (of course) that traps the scientists and Hammond's visiting niece and nephew (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello) in the jungle with giant, hungry, pissed-off lizards.

Jurassic Park's calling card has always been Spielberg and ILM's revolutionary blending of practical effects and cutting-edge digital technology. Indeed, in the six years between this film and George Lucas's Star Wars: Episode I, tons of sci-fi movies tried to gloss over their weak stories and performances with CGI, but only the guys at the top of the pyramid had the funding and passion to really make their experiments work. Even The Phantom Menace looks dodgy by today's standards, but I challenge anyone to watch the scene where the T-Rex attacks the tourist' jeep caravan and not marvel at its authenticity.

While the effects wowed me even as an adult, I was equally impressed by the film's smarts and heart. Instead of sitting through two hours of semi-connected action set pieces, screenwriters Michael Crichton (co-adapting his own novel) and David Koepp take great pains to create a single, thrilling story. There are no great plot twists, no eleventh-hour transformation by Hammond into a maniacal super-villain who gets devoured by his own creations. The filmmakers allow the horror and adventure to explode naturally from their fantastic premise, and follow their well-drawn characters' fight for survival. All the while, a chilling philosophical undercurrent charges the story, summed up best in Malcom's line, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

The cast is wonderful, too. As a bickering-scientist couple who find themselves in the middle of an Earth-shattering discovery and a domestic debate over whether or not to have kids, Neill and Dern convey heartache, humor, and tenderness in ways that the screenplay only suggests. It's a cute conceit that Grant, who doesn't want children, winds up protecting Hammond's niece and nephew. A lesser film would have ended with him as a melted-heart wuss who suddenly wants a giant family. But Jurassic Park leaves the Alan and Ellie story open-ended--hopeful but uncertain.

Writing that just now, I realized a couple more layers to Jurassic Park's overall message about "life finding a way". I won't bore you with them, as many of you are likely far more familiar with this movie than I am. Suffice it to say, I'm still mulling over Spielberg, Crichton, and Koepp's themes a week after seeing their movie--which is more than I can say about most big-ticket pictures I've seen in the ensuing decades.

After wading through all this, you may wonder, "Yeah, but should I bother seeing it in 3D?"

Yes. Yes, you should.

I can't vouch for IMAX 3D--that may be a bit too much visual information to handle. But if you have the chance to experience Jurassic Park in a movie theatre again, go before it's too late. This isn't a lame, Clash of the Titans-style, cheap-o conversion. The extra-dimensional effects are often quite lovely and only occasionally distracting: the separations make an early scene involving the lawyer's visit to an archaeological dig look like a weird motion-pop-up book, while the awesome warped-perspective shots in the famous raptors-in-the-kitchen scene benefit greatly from Stereo D's tinkering.

If for no other reason, you should catch Jurassic Park on the big screen as a reminder that "event" movies used to feel like events. Once upon a time, eye candy was considered dessert and not passed off as a meal devoid of mental and spiritual nutrients. From all appearances, we're in for another long summer of bombastic boredom, so why not remind ourselves of a time when we allowed our cinematic hearts to wonder and not just wander?

Monday
Apr082013

Upstream Color (2013)

The Edict of Worms

Am I the last movie geek to hop aboard the Shane Carruth bandwagon? Possibly. Until a few days ago, I hadn't seen Primer, a film my film-loving friends have begged me to watch for years. It's a good thing I waited, because in doing my homework for the writer/director's new picture, Upstream Color, I discovered that the best way to experience his movies is back-to-back.'

Primer was a low-budget indie whose ideas, dialogue, and editing went a long way in masking its meager production values. Watching Upstream Color, it appears Carruth spent the nine years between projects raising money, studying Terrence Malick, and communing with whatever hundredth-level consciousness controls our vast, wacky universe. His second film is far more professional-looking and coherent, and also emotionally engaging in a way that his first was not. Primer was all about tickling the brain; Upstream Color stops the heart and massages it tenderly back to life.

Not that I'd call this a "feel-good" film. It may end on a hopeful note, but you'll have to wade past rape metaphors, New Age drug addictions, a brittle co-dependent relationship, and the world's most sadistic pig farmer before the warm fuzzies kick in. And, true to Carruth's style, none of the answers come easily.

Despite the weight of its message, Upstream Color is a deceptively breezy messenger, peeling back layer after layer after layer of significance by intersecting three disparate storylines--two of which don't don't feel like stories at all. As with the grisly murders in David Fincher's Se7en, much of Upstream Color's story is filled in between scenes or in events that occurred before the movie even began.

"Four paragraphs in, and no description of this allegedly wonderful plot? Bad form, Simmons. Bad form..."

Yes, I usually pull out the slobbering praise as a closer. In this case, I'm struggling not to turn my review into a spoilerific essay of theories; you need to discover for yourself what makes Upstream Color great. But I also realize we live in an unjust world, one in which my endorsement and an image of two people lying in a bathtub are not motivation enough to push you out the door in search of an art house theatre. So I'll be brief.

A movie-effects supervisor named Kris (Amy Seimetz) falls victim to a savage and unnamed new drug. The effects are as weird as the delivery system: after ingesting a maggot (the raw form of the narcotic, which is typically nested inside a capsule), Kris experiences a complete loss of free will and, later, the curse of sharing past experiences with other users as if they are her own. In short order, her life is ruined and she takes a print-shop job to get by.

Sometime in the future, she meets Jeff (Carruth), also a damaged survivor of the bug drug. They get together, mostly because only the select few who've been through their particular horrors can understand them. The greatest tension in Kris and Jeff's nasty, sad reality is that the effects never truly wear off: they subside and mutate into other unpleasant sensations that suggest a cellular-level thirst in need of spiritual-level quenching.

Like Primer, Upstream Color doesn't bother with hand-holding while skipping around time and space. The narrative often appears to stop and smell the roses, but as Carruth's camera lingers on, say, a professional audio sampler scraping large rocks along a drainage pipe, or gives us a stunning Nature's-eye-view of the maggot's life cycle, the answers come rich and rapid-fire (assuming you're strapped in and paying attention).

I'll leave it to you to discover how a pig farmer factors into all this. I will say that the eerily wonderful Andrew Sensenig reminded me of Jean Dujardin in The Artist. He has, I think, three lines of dialogue, yet conveys more complexity, intimidation, and odd empathy than you're likely to find in the most dialogue-heavy of Oscar-bait dramas.

He's in good company. Here's a good example of how enamored I am with Seimetz's performance: before today, I had no interest in seeing the upcoming home-invasion horror movie You're Next. But in researching this review, I found out Seimetz is part of the cast--which means there will at least be something to enjoy on August 23rd. The actress creates a fully realized character of privilege who, through no fault of her own, is brought down to a near emotional and physical flatline. Upstream Color is Kris's years-long struggle back to square one, and she had my sympathy from beginning to end.

Carruth fares well as Jeff, but his character is mostly there to support Kris on her journey. He has a great look and tremendous presence as a mysterious background player, but as Jeff's role comes to the narrative forefront, Carruth's relative weakness as an actor (compared to his considerable gifts as a writer, director, co-editor, and composer) comes out. His performance is good, but it can only squint at the stratospheric greatness of Seimetz and Sensenig's.

The journey from Primer to Upstream Color reminded me of Darren Aronofsky's early career. The much-acclaimed Pi, which I didn't appreciate at the time, and which I should probably watch again, was a micro-budget calling card of crazy imagery and crazier ideas. He followed up with Requiem for a Dream, which proved he could handle stars and a bigger budget without losing his unique voice as a storyteller. Carruth is on a similar trajectory, and I wouldn't be surprised if he comes roaring back in another ten years with the film to end all cinema.

Sure, that's hyperbole. But I'm a staunch believer in this auteur's passion and imagination. Filmmakers rarely give us rich, heady novels anymore, and it's refreshing to have great themes to chew on, married to images both melodic and horrifying in their poetry.

Attention Chicagoans! Remember my opening line about seeing Upstream Color and Primer back-to-back (scroll up if you don't)? Well, here's your chance! On Friday, April 12th, The Music Box Theatre celebrates Upstream Color's Windy City premiere with a trippy double feature. If that's not reason enough to come out, the event will feature a special live introduction and Q&A with Shane Carruth, hosted by The Onion AV Club's Scott Tobias! Click here for details and ticket info!

Saturday
Apr062013

Evil Dead (2013)

Narcolepticon Ex Mucus

By the way, if anyone here is in Marketing or Advertising: kill yourself. Thank you.

--Bill Hicks

Half-way into Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez's big-budget remake of Sam Raimi's couch-change horror classic, I gave up all hope of being entertained. The movie had become an endurance test, and my reward for wading through buckets of sinew and uninspired plotting would be the much-talked-about post-credits stinger--a delightful tease for fans of the original franchise that allegedly ties two cinematic universes together.

Fair warning: Turn back now if you don't wish to read about the best part of the movie.

Mia (Jane Levy) wanders dazedly down a long country road, battered and bloody from her showdown with the Kandarian demon. Following a series of time-lapse edits, she winds up in the parking lot of a sparsely patronized retail store.

Inside, a bored customer-service desk clerk (Ted Raimi) smacks his gum loudly while reading an entertainment magazine with the headline, "Are Remakes Killing Horror Movies?". His back is turned to the out-of-focus main entrance, but we can just make out Mia shambling through the automatic doors.

She collapses with a loud, wet thud. Someone shrieks off-camera. We switch focus for a moment as the clerk swivels around and considers the state of his newest customer.

Coming back into focus, he sighs heavily, picks up the phone and activates the PA system. We're looking up at him now, from the desk's point of view, and can clearly see a bright red S-Mart sign on the wall. With as little enthusiasm as the employee handbook allows, he announces, "Code Green in 1A, please. Code Green in 1A."

We track along S-Mart's main aisle as customers wander out from the clothing racks to see what all the commotion is about. The shot cross-fades and pans up on a dirty wheeled, bucket and the worn plastic mop rising from it like a retail Excalibur. In an instant, a gleaming metallic hand (which fans will recognize instantly from Army of Darkness) pops into frame and grabs the handle. Cut to black.

Pretty sweet, right?

It was, and I had a great time inventing this sequence on the drive home. I had to do something to get the actual stinger out of my head, which consisted of a two-second Bruce Campbell close-up. Standing in near total darkness, he turns to the camera and says "Groovy". Cut to black.

Some mouth-breathing cretins may think this is an awesome enough reason to not evacuate a truly awful movie, but their lack of self-respect is astonishing and should not be encouraged. It's the like waiting around after a Cars movie in anticipation of Mater saying "Git 'er done! Beep-beep!" in Larry the Cable Guy's obnoxious voice.

Yes, my intro was a cruel joke, but so is this movie. Those who are new to horror (or who are pre-disposed to like absolutely everything they see) may find lots to love in Evil Dead. For the rest of us, this tired exercise offers a painful lesson in the power of marketing and the purchasability of the nerd press.

Despite decades of fan requests for a new Evil Dead sequel, Raimi and Campbell slapped their name on a sub-par retread--all the while unscrupulously promoting it as being better than even what their supporters claimed they wanted. Sadly, the public appears to have convinced itself that this steaming pile of garbage is what it had asked for all along. It's the cinematic equivalent of Obamacare.

Worse than the fact that all the new material is unnecessary filler--from the opening attempted exorcism to the conceit that a group of friends have traveled to a secluded, wooded cabin to help one of their own kick heroin--is Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues' refusal to let Raimi's original trilogy go. Evil Dead isn't a remake or a re-imagining so much as it's a Greatest Hits mash-up of parts one and two:

The kids find the Book of the Dead; one of them reads it aloud; a forest-full of demons is unleashed.

Fine. But we also get endless call-backs to the glass necklace, three severed hand gags, multiple trips to the work shed, and, of course, a climactic showdown featuring a chainsaw. Along the way, Alvarez keeps cutting to illustrations from the book, which show gruesome things happening to people. Wouldn't you know it? Seconds later, the highlighted awful fate befalls one of the kids in the cabin.

Rinse. Repeat.

By constantly grafting elements of Evil Dead 2, which is a comedy, into an allegedly serious, dark horror movie, the filmmakers wind up with something neither humorous nor horrific. In this way--and only in this way--Evil Dead is the perfect spiritual successor to the original, which was also plagued by repetitive "Look at Me!" gore scenes and zero reason to invest emotionally.

What's worse, Alvarez doesn't at all try to improve on Raimi's films' problems--in fact, he makes them worse. I never understood how demons with the ability to possess people, levitate, warp reality, and grow into horrific multi-headed monsters were so easily defeated by chainsaws and guns. At least Raimi established a rule that reading different Book of the Dead passages could restore the cosmic order.

Alvarez just goes to town on his meat puppets (who are invincible--until they're conveniently not) and gives us more drawn-out false endings than Return of the King. None of them work, by the way, and serve only to highlight the perfect, escalating weirdness of Evil Dead 2's climax.

I was very hopeful for this remake, and even called off the hounds of skepticism a few months ago. But it turns out the naysayers were right--just not for the reasons they thought. I believe a quality update of The Evil Dead is possible, but whatever I watched yesterday doesn't qualify. Shot in a competent but wholly generic style,* and cast mostly with what I can only assume are slightly tousled Abercrombie models, Evil Dead 2013 plays like a late-afternoon test the scientists from The Cabin in the Woods would rush through ahead of a three-day weekend.

I can't help but wonder if this was Sam Raimi's plan all along: a hearty "Fuck You" to his fans for not appreciating the Evil Dead films he'd already given them. I'd like to think that's the case, even if it is a bit cruel. For my part, I'm going to violate a very strong, very personal policy and suggest that you avoid this movie at all costs. Just don't watch it. There's nothing here that wasn't done better over twenty years ago, and therefore no reason for you to waste your time, money, or gas. Contrary to all the overblown Internet chatter, Alvarez's movie won't give you nightmares--but it may just put you to sleep.

A Note About the Famous "No CGI" Controversy: Computer-generated imagery rears its unconvincing head within the first three minutes of this film. It's not as egregious as, say, the Resident Evil movies, but there's no more or less "old school, practical horror" here than was evident in Saw II. Once again, bullshit hype and manufactured drama win the day.

*Pay close attention to the specific "Raimi-isms" Alvarez tries to re-create and stand in awe of the mediocrity.