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…

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Warrior

Coming to theaters on September 9th, 2011.

Coming to theaters on September 9th, 2011.

Thanks to Gofobo.com, I got my hands on advanced movie screening tickets for Warrior, which doesn’t come out for another two weeks. I didn’t know much about it other than the fact that it involved two brothers and a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting tournament. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in for a treat.

Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) is a former Marine and former alcoholic, now sober and sorry for past abuses towards his two sons and wife. One day after church, Paddy’s youngest son and wrestling prodigy Tommy (Tom Hardy) returns out of the blue to have a father-son chat. Meanwhile, Paddy’s eldest son Brendan (Joel Edgerton) struggles to make ends meet while working as a high school physics teacher. Brendan and his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) work three jobs between them and are still dangerously behind on their mortgage.

When Brendan moonlights as a prize fighter for extra cash, he is swiftly terminated from his teaching position despite the best attempts of principal  Joe Zito (portrayed by the always likeable Kevin Dunn) to prevent it. Tommy takes up training again at a local gym where he floors a local contender for an upcoming Sparta tournament and impresses the gym owner. But when both Brendan and Tommy learn about the tournament however, anyone can see their fateful collision course.

The movie mixes two genres strangely but fairly well, being both a sports martial arts movie and a family drama. Many modern martial arts movies do this to some degree, such as the Rocky series or Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger, but always between husband and wife. It certainly shares a strong kinship with The Fighter starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, both movies being family dramas on top of prize fighting.  But the fighting in Warrior is simply a byproduct of the strife and struggles the characters face. This fight of brother against brother was probably going to happen sooner or later, while the themes of this film were not as discrete as they were in The Fighter.

The directing deserves a respectable nod for its careful application of blue lighting and the right mix of sports event cinematography to regular camerawork within the story. The plot throws in plenty of twists and turns as details surrounding the characters’ pasts are revealed. There are no bad guys in this movie, and you don’t know just who to cheer for as you reach the end.

Still I have to strike a few points for two things. First, the lack of blood and bruises. This was probably a conscious decision to keep the PG-13 rating and relax people who do not like on screen gore. Maybe a director’s cut version will solve this, but the beatings these guys took seemed less intense without massive post-fight shiners. The second was the application of a few over emotional factors, like the ending music and the military chorus. Gavin O’Connor, who makes a cameo appearance within the movie as tournament founder J.J. Riley, was banking on some patriotic military appeal. Which is fine if it were a touch more subtle. I also wonder if O’Connor was playing with the idea of an alternate ending, and is in fact doing these screenings to gauge audience reactions to the decide on which to use for Warrior‘s release.

But the acting in this movie is outstanding. All of the actors, both major and minor, manage to subtly blend this chemistry on screen, letting you easily pick up the friendships and the rivalries. Everyone is on point, mixing the smiles and rib poking with checked frustration and unfinished business. Praise is due to Jennifer Morrison for overcoming the stereotypical worried wife that we’ve seen with Zellweger or Talia Shire, who played Rocky’s Adrian. Instead of the hysterics and tears, Morrison puts on a performance of pouted-lip resignation when she sees she cannot change her husband’s mind. But this blossoms into amusing antics, such as spending the entire day watching her cell phone for news and pretending not to be worried.

Nick Nolte’s character is pitiful to watch: humbled before God and trying to make amends, however unwelcome, with his two sons. Although infinitely patient with his angry children, his rambling character manages to jerk sympathy where none is likely deserved. It’s perhaps unfair to judge him because we only see the echoes of who he was and the results of his actions. Joel Edgerton successfully combines both brains and brawn with his character’s esoteric background, indirectly luring his students into cheering for him as the guy they all want to be.

Hardy's character is not so much shown to the world as he is 'unleashed.'

Hardy's character is not so much shown to the world as he is 'unleashed.'

But the real spot light is on Tom Hardy, who is phenomenal. Hardy has completely replaced the charming Eames of Inception with Tommy Conlon. The loveable accent is gone and in its place is something from the rougher side of New Jersey. Instead of charming wit, we have Tommy’s checked fury which creates an atmospheric tension so thick, it chokes you.  But never does it get out of control. It just broods in a menacing hulk of a man but never explodes outside the ring. To be put in the same room as this man would probably terrify you, if only quietly. And best of all, Hardy proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Christopher Nolan‘s decision to cast him as Bane in the upcoming film The Dark Knight Rises was no mistake. Tom Hardy could easily be an action movie star as huge as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, but also fully capable of acting and portraying a deep role. His pairing with Christian Bale will be legendary.

Warrior is a solid flick with appeal enough for everyone. Check it out, if only to pump yourself up for next summer.