The Evil Dead: “Please, God: Give Me a Break”

Review of Evil Dead, Directed by Fede Alvarez

Some viewers like movies that leave them thinking about themes and ideas for weeks and months after they see them. Others want an experience at the cinema, a couple of hours that make them laugh, cry, scream or jump out of their seats. The pleasures of those films are in the moment, and the lingering impression they leave is one of the shared experience of chills and cringing, cowering fear—at least until the credits roll and the lights come up.

The Evil Dead is clearly in the latter category. The film is a $14 million remake of writer/director Sam Raimi’s 1981 film of the same name (budgeted at $375,000), which spawned two sequels. The first of those sequels, Evil Dead 2, was itself a partial remake of the first film, but its tone was more campy, more of a send-up of the straight-ahead, unremitting horror of the first film’s tone and approach. The third film in the series, Army of Darkness, continued in that vein. So it’s surprising that the new Evil Dead, for which Raimi and series star Bruce Campbell serve as producers, starts off with a horrific sequence and rarely lets up. In doing so, the new film returns to, and recaptures, the terrifying tone of Raimi’s 1981 film, making few, if any, concessions to the laugh-it-up, post-modern irony that has infected the exhausted horror genre.

The 2013 Evil Dead follows a group of friends as they arrive at to a cabin in the woods—not primarily for a weekend getaway, but, in large part, to stage an intervention for Mia, who’s struggling with a drug problem. Mia has promised to kick her habit before, but the promise was broken within hours. This time, her friends vow, they won’t let her leave until she’s clean.

We know from a prologue that the cabin was once the site of a grisly murder—the result of unexplained spiritual forces that possess others and turn them into killing machines. In the present-day story, the new group of friends unleash those same spiritual forces when one of the group reads from the Book of Dead. Discovered in the cabin, the volume is literally wrapped in chains and locked, but that doesn’t prevent one curious soul from figuring out how to open the book, read aloud, and bring unholy spirits upon the group. Those spirits first enter Mia and then, one by one, possess the others and try to kill them off.

How? By lighting them on fire, shooting them in the head, stabbing (with a knife or a hypodermic needle), and chain-sawing through limbs and vital organs. Not to mention the killing of a dog, a protagonist’s desperate severing of her hand from her wrist, or a tree vine’s assault of a female character.

This is all depicted vividly—so much so that I’m surprised the film got away with an “R” rating rather than be slapped with the dreaded—but it seems to me more appropriate—“NC-17” rating.

Graphic violence and gore aside, what spiritual message does the film send? It’s clearly a warning against tampering with dark forces, but it presents no clear solution on how to combat spiritual darkness. It suggests the souls of the possessed can be “saved” through killing the possessed person, and the superstitious characters discuss whether or not a certain necklace has powers to make Mia stronger in her battle against addiction (“I thought you believed in that stuff,” Mia says to the person giving her the necklace. “I don’t, but you do,” he responds.) Later, in the throes of going “cold turkey” with her addiction, Mia prays, “Please, God, give me a break!” Later in the film, Mia will look toward heaven, leaving us to ponder whether her prayer has been answered.

The film’s main characters are, in the tradition of most modern horror films, dimwitted fools who behave in ways normal people never would. In this case, one of them opens a book, ignores repeated written warnings within its pages (e.g., “LEAVE THIS BOOK ALONE”), reads aloud words that should never be spoken, and opens the door to a night of horror and death.

While the power of darkness and the reality of unseen spiritual enemies should never be underestimated (Ephesians 6:12; Deuteronomy 18:10-12), the depiction of those things is not an endorsement of darkness or an invitation to imitate the behaviors of people foolish enough to tamper with powers beyond their control. The Evil Dead doesn’t make those things seem attractive or appealing. It’s much more likely that the film will scare kids into not messing around with spiritual powers beyond their control.

But they don’t need a movie to tell them that. There’s a book that covers all that, and it’s much more uplifting than this movie.

 


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