Halloween Movie Reviews: “Evil Dead”

A different kind of voyeur...

A different kind of voyeur…

While the movies I saw the previous nights were more psychological in nature, Evil Dead veered towards the gore and bodily horror that has been absent from my recently-seen for far too long.

The movie opens with a vignette suggestive of a typical horror movie. A scared girl is running, and is cornered by what at first looks like “backwater hicks”.

Taken to a cabin, she is tied up and immolated… by none other than her father. In a snap, the seemingly innocent girl is revealed to be the real terror, demonically possessed and a murderer of her own mother. An intriguing revelation that reverses the assumed cliché.

Some time later, the stage is set for trouble again. Five teenagers go to the same cabin, oblivious to its past. But rather than be out for cheap thrills and sex, they’re there to help a friend, Mia (Jane Levy), go cold turkey and beat her heroin addiction. This is a strong hook that both creates denial of the real nature of the problem, and creates incentive to protect her even as she becomes the host of all their fears.

I particularly admire the game the demon plays. Sometimes, it gives control back to its host for one of two reasons. Either to trick others into giving the demon what it wants, or truly for no other reason than to cause anguish. There’s a fear that the relinquished control might suddenly be snatched up again. But when it isn’t, you recognize that the demon just wanted to let the characters see their loved ones die. It’s insidiously twisted.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about Evil Dead is that, with one minor exception, every character seems to have passed Horror Movie Survival 101. That exception was, “Never read demonic scripture aloud” but that can be forgiven by anyone with the right mix of scientific doubt and curiosity, and was necessary to kick off the movie.

Given the circumstances and events, the characters almost always seemed to make the right choice or call, only to be thwarted by the demon’s powers. Every avenue that is the correct one is cut off. You rarely find yourself saying, “Don’t do that…” in that been-there-seen-that tone that comes from watching too many horror flicks.

Demons have a way of making the right decisions go poorly. They’re just more advanced than your average slasher.

However, I hope you’re comfortable with blood and gore. Evil Dead winces rather than winks when it comes to violence. I admire that CGI has been used as a touch up rather than as the source of the special effects. But just as with any normal slasher flick, the movie leaves nothing to the imagination.

In terms of horror continuity, Evil Dead holds itself in a strange position. It’s not of itself a sequel to The Evil Dead. But rather is something that one might call a “blessed reboot” much like how the new Star Trek found a clever way to simultaneously both reboot the series and tie into it.

And Evil Dead was blessed indeed. Although directed by Fede Alvarez, it was produced by Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. Campbell even added a tiny Easter egg after the credits. Talk is that both the creators of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness are hard at work on sequels, and rumor has it that there’s talk of merging the two movie story lines into one. Hey, if Freddy and Jason can do it…

Halloween Movie Reviews: “Mama”

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It’s rare that ghost stories are ever alike. While it’s generally agreed as to how a vampire can be killed, or a werewolves slain, every ghost tends to have its own back story and nature. And hidden somewhere in that lies the key to besting it.

This is why ghost tales often have it easier. There’s so much more room for creativity. And not every ghost must be a malign spectre, but can be good… or exist in a haze of moral gray. As it does in Mama, directed by Andrés Muschietti.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, a business man (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known as Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones) is driven to kill his wife, and flee the law with his two very young daughters. A car accident deposits them somewhere in the wilderness, where he finds a cabin with them and despairs his luck.

Before the father can do anything drastic however, he is slain and a new caretaker enters the lives of the children.

Five years later, men hired by the the girl’s uncle (Also Coster-Waldau) discover them in a cabin. Feral and starved, they have no real idea how to interact with other humans.

The girls are brought back into society. But their uncle encounters difficulty petitioning to raise the children. The girls’ aunt, from their mother’s side, wants custody as well. Only through a deal made to their overseeing psychologist were the girls allowed to remain with their uncle and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain of Zero Dark Thirty) who is a member of a rock band.

But when an “accident” leaves the uncle in a coma and his girlfriend has to take care of the kids by herself, we start to see who helped those girls survive for all those years.

Mama is a well made piece. The acting is never wanting, the effects manage to be subtle enough to avoid mockery. And the story is good.  Despite Coster-Waldau’s relevance and consistence to the story through his twin characters, Jessica Chastain emerges as the real protagonist in time.

Undoubtedly, the most creepy and disturbing aspect of the movie had to be the girls themselves. Their feral habits take quite a while to begin to dispel, and something of them remains throughout the whole of the movie. A single scene where the younger of the two crawls out into the hall as quiet as a spider remains particularly unforgettable. Kudos have to be given to young actresses Isabelle Nélisse and Megan Charpentier.

Despite these points for it, a few issues mired the film. Chastain’s character seemed a touch cliché. An under developed rocker-avoiding-responsibility figure who, from the very moment we first met her, was banking hard to port to avoid motherhood.

Rather than conceptualize a reason to prefer her own life to raising others, the writers accepted and embraced the stereotype to avoid any challenging character craft. Fortunately, Chastain knew how to pick up the slack with her talents. And for what there was to work with, the character was represented wonderfully.

Another issue I had was with the middle. The beginning and the ending were great. But the center suffered a slower pace that was more predictable and less willing to take chances. My attention waned a little, although it eventually reclaimed it.

Mama has a lot going for it. It is a fine ghost story, ideal for people who normally do not like horror. Or simply prefer something less gratuitous than the traditional slasher flick. Mama is worth at least a rental.