Tag: fede alvarez

Evil Dead


Evil Dead (2013)
★ / ★★★★

“I’ve had enough of this shit.”

So have I, Mia. So have I. Less than halfway through, it is glaringly apparent that Fede Alvarez’ reimagining of Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror classic “The Evil Dead” adopts an obnoxious (and obvious) approach to tell its story: turn up the volume to 11, make it five times as gory as the original, and drain every bit of charm out of the characters so when they get injured, maimed, or die, we do not even blink at the fact. It is a movie more concerned with delivering surface, evanescent sensations rather than attempting to provide an experience that lingers in the gut and mind. One trick pony by nature, it’s completely forgettable.

Take a look at the infamous forest rape scene as an example. In this film, the visual effects are quite impressive. When the trees’ branches wrap around Mia’s neck (Jane Levy), it really looks like there is a grip around her throat that is preventing her from breathing. The black, slug-like demon crawls out from the tree, onto her legs, and inside her. By contrast, in Raimi’s film, the branches do not look as though they possess intention to hurt, kill, or rape. Not only are they thin, they look like they’re already dead or dying.

And yet despite the clear gap in budget and quality of effects, notice that Raimi’s is the better scene. There is patience from behind the camera. There is a rhythm to the editing—inciting us to call for help even though we know it is only a movie. When the camera moves, it is always with purpose. It is quieter, less busy. It feels personal. Sad, even. The rape feels drawn-out which amplifies the horror of the scene. You wish to look away. You feel shaken. In Alvarez’ film, the rape is just something that happens. Onto the next violent sequence.

If you’re on the market for young people cutting off their faces with glass, being shot with a nail gun, and chopping off their arms with an electric knife, then perhaps this version is for you. Or maybe not. Consider: Why bother reimagining a story when the screenwriters (Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues) fail to inject new blood in a franchise that, while gory, is fun, funny, inviting, filled with knowing winks to the genre and, above all, creative? It just doesn’t stand out from other grim-faced demonic possession movies. What’s the point?

The setup is not without potential. I liked that these characters do not visit the cabin in the woods to have fun during their weekend getaway. Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), David (Shiloh Fernandez), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) are there to help Mia (Jane Levy) overcome her heroine addiction. There are easy parallels between drug addiction and being possessed by a foreign entity. It is curious and disappointing that the screenplay fails to capitalize on the metaphor and deliver a work with surprising thought or insight. It is all about making the violence look grand, shocking, spectacular. I didn’t care one bit.

I wanted to care about Mia and David. These are siblings who have lost touch just before their mother died. The expository dialogue hints at pain, sadness, and anger they have for (but hide from) one another. But these are never explored—even when one of them has been possessed by evil. I think the problem is that the writers have a limited definition of horror. It is not always about disturbing and gross-out images. In fact, I argue it should rarely be about that. The horror genre is a conduit, a mask, a mirror for something we cannot face head-on. And because they don’t understand what horror really is, we are given a cheap, factory-made horror film.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web


The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Yes, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is a cold and impersonal action-thriller. Given that four films have been released prior, it assumes that the audience already has a basic idea of who the protagonist is and what she is capable of. This gives a chance for director Fede Álvarez, who co-adapted the screenplay with Jay Basu and Steven Knight from David Lagercrantz’ novel of the same name, to present a story in a way that breezes through the usual character introductions and quickly get to the conflict that is specific to this installment. On this level, it works.

This time, vigilante hacker Lisbeth Salander, punisher of men who mistreat women, is played by Claire Foy. Her portrayal is a welcome change from Rooney Mara’s nearly impenetrable enigma. Foy may not be as tough physically as Mara and Noomi Rapace, but I found her interpretation of the character to be strong by comparison given that she has more range when it comes to delivering the necessary and appropriate emotions under certain turn of events. And because the plot is tethered to Salander’s painful and traumatic childhood, a performer with a more believable and relatable emotional range is preferred. The paradox is interesting: there is a softness to Foy that shines through the masculine look of sporting a mohawk, wearing a leather jacket, piercings, tattoos, heavy cosmetics, and stealing a Lamborghini.

Rising action and climaxes are slick and suspenseful. Five groups wish to have their hands on Firewall, a program developed for Americans that is capable of breaching and taking control of nuclear codes—including those of other nations. Each faction’s motivation is presented in a clear and precise manner; so although the pacing is unapologetically swift, those willing to pay attention and focus on the chess pieces moving across the board will likely be able to follow the sudden and occasionally violent left turns. Notice that each explosion or shootout is preceded by patient build-up such as observing from afar or masked trigger-happy henchmen being captured on digital cameras.

An area of improvement is Salander’s relationship with Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason). While I appreciated that the script does not rehash their past, the material fails to move their professional relationship in a forward direction. Attempts are made, like Salander trusting Blomkvist with a child prodigy’s life (whose father, played by Stephen Merchant, is the creator of Firewall), but they barely say more than five lines of dialogue to one another. Perhaps we are supposed to extract information from the heavy silence between them, but this technique only works when the work is largely character-driven and there is an evolving trajectory in the characters’ connection.

I found “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” to be captivating because it is unlike so many generic American action-thrillers where action comes first and thrills are secondary. Here, we get the impression that chase, the tease, is more important than extracting entertainment from violence. And when it does lean toward the latter, particularly in the third act, the change is welcome.

Don’t Breathe


Don’t Breathe (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Fede Alvarez, director and co-writer of “Don’t Breathe,” takes inspiration from great horror-thrillers which utilize space effectively in order to establish, sustain, and release tension. At one point, there is reference to an excellent scene in John Carpenter’s “Halloween” where the heroine is trapped in a confined space with her attacker. What results is a picture that, although not original, is highly watchable and consistently entertaining because the equation is feverishly being evaluated as complex factors are introduced to it.

The material is light on character development which can be overlooked due to its fast pacing. The respective motivations of the three burglars (Dylan Minnette, Jane Levy, Daniel Zovatto) who decide to break into the house of a blind man (Stephen Lang) and steal six figures worth of cash are simple and clear, each one given a specific place on the moral spectrum. Character depth is icing on the cake but not necessary in a film like this.

Silence can be deafening considering the fact that the faintest noise, like the creaking of the floorboards, can alert the blind man, who is not as innocent as he seems, to the location of burglars-turned-potential-victims. Standout scenes involve silence partnered with tightly controlled lighting that create ominous shadows and the camera pans around the room—we wait in careful anticipation when the silence will be shattered and it is time for the thieves to move briskly in order to have a chance at survival.

Although the story for the most part takes place inside two-story house with a basement, it gives the impression that every room is utilized to its maximum capacity. We grow familiar to the layout of the home with dark and tragic secrets. Notice that just about every space revisited later in the picture contains a memory involving the unsuspecting trio, whether it be the hall in front of the door to the basement, the closet, the laundry room, the homeowner’s bedroom, the front door leading to freedom… or at least an impression of it.

Lang plays the blind man with a convincing air of dominance. Despite the character’s inability to see, highly memorable are instances when he uses his hands to pummel the trespassers into unconsciousness. The sheer brutality of it is not found in his eyes or even his arms—but the hands: they are like sharp branches one second, a steel hammer the next. The camera sits still when his hands are used, less still when a gun is involved.

“Don’t Breathe” is relentless, even in the manner in which the story ends. I admired that there is neither an easy nor a clean-cut happy ending. With the kind of brutality that transpires in that Detroit home, it is clear that no one should walk away unchanged physically and internally. That kind of trauma sticks around for years, if not till it’s time to check out.