Director: Fede Alvarez
Writers: Fede, Rodo Sayagues, Diablo Cody (yeah, right?)
Pale addict/gross toothed demon/Bruce Willis: Jane Levy
Bruce Campbell: Shiloh Fernandez
Mix between a nerd and a hipster and Thor: Lou Taylor Pucci
Between this and Cloverfield, she's suffered some horrific on-screen deaths: Jessica Lucas
Oh poor sweet thing: Elizabeth Blackmore
Zombie Devil Bitch: Randal Wilson
What It's Good For:
-grossing you out
-balancing horror and a weird style of comedy
-Jane Levy's career
-how to make a remake
-changing how you look at a electric carving knife
-challenging The Cabin in the Woods
-THE FORKED TONGUE
-Fede Alvarez's career
-"grandpa" as a name for a dog is incredible
-I love what it does with the female lead: anti-hero to villain to hero
-reminding people that Sam Raimi had a soul before Spider-Man 3
-being a satire without a lot of people realizing it
-I don't know if all the "doors slowly closing on their own" is satirical or not, but it happens so much people could get sick of it. Same with "oh look, there's something behind you!"
-dog battered with a hammer
-it has some really disgusting moments
-hearing people say "the original is better"
-THE FORKED TONGUE
-it just sort of...ends
Okay, okay. Evil Dead originally came out in 1981, so VERY MUCH predates The Cabin in the Woods. Which means The Cabin in the Woods by having a cabin in the woods was probably alluding to Evil Dead. (Remember, CitW is one of the most allusion heavy movies of all time).
I don't mean the two are similar in terms of content. Well. They are. But what I want to discuss is how the two are similar in spirit. "Spirit" isn't the word I wanted to use there, but I couldn't resist the pun.
"Can you get to the point?"
Can we agree Cabin never really stops mocking the horror genre? The music. The camera shots. The dialogue. The situations. The nudity. The fact the characters are against-type at the beginning but then a drug turns them into their basic archetypes (like dumb jock, dumb blonde, virgin, etc.). The fact the Japanese monster is a ghost in a school. That all the monsters allude to some other horror movie. That because things don't go right no one survives because the God is angry and breaks free and is going to destroy the world--which is commentary on the fact the people who are "in charge" think audiences want this same, cookie-cutter horror film again and again and again and again or else they'll freak out and not see the movie (which is the same as the world ending)...
Cabin is making the point this idea of "if we don't maintain this ritual sacrifice the Gods/Viewers will end all existence" ISN'T true. People won't destroy the world if someone tries to make a horror movie that is unique, fresh, etc... They would actually probably I'm pretty sure enjoy a non-cookie-cutter horror movie.
Except Cabin makes its point by making the cookie-cutter movie it's mocking.
Evil Dead sort of creates the same movie as Cabin. Except there's no nudity. There's no dumb jock. There's no "virgin"--or if there is one it isn't mention...in fact, sex doesn't factor into the movie at all, ever. There's also no wink-wink-nudge-nudge-let's-allude-to-every-single-horror-movie-that's-been-popular-ever. Despite these lack of stereotypes and meta-ness, Evil Dead IS a satire.
I'mma call Evil Dead's satirical style: Ludicrousness Without Inflection.
For instance. Do you know how many times duck tape is used in the movie? At least three. It's not played for laughs. The characters take it seriously. The direction even takes it seriously. There's no change in the music, no "beats". No camera shot to highlight "LOOK HE'S REALLY USING DUCK TAPE HAHAHAH". It's just: fuck, here's duck tape, let's use it. But using duck tape, while practical, is RIDICULOUS. Especially given the circumstances.
The major difference between Cabin and Evil is this: in Evil the horror is, first and foremost, forever forefront. The movie opens with a bunch of dead cats hanging from hooks and gratuitous language, with a father shotgunning his little girl who is on fire. The "let's see if we can gross you out" attempts never really slow down. They're never quite as...symphonic as in that opening scene. Rather, after that first scene, the instruments are isolated and the movie plays out as a series of solo performances: so we get the girl coming out of the lake, the angry molesting trees, the barbed vagina snake, the hammer hammered dog whimpering in a hole, Mia burning her face in the shower, Mia vomiting blood on Olivia, Olivia carving off part of her face, etc. etc.
Underneath these horrific notes (yup, still playing that metaphor (yup, used "playing" there to drive the metaphor even further into the ground)): absolute absurdity.
If you added Joss Whedon's meta element, where the technicians are commenting on everything that's happening and making sure the audience is aware of the satire and commentary (about films in the horror genre), Evil Dead would FEEL almost identical to Cabin in the Woods. Without it, Evil Dead lacks a rhetorical device by which to key the viewer in on the satire. Which means it must use other satirical devices. These devices are what give Evil Dead a different texture than Cabin (despite the fact both take place in a damned cabin in the woods):
lack of continuity
characterization so poor its temperature would register -458 degrees (which is my way of saying "nearing absolute zero", which is a pretentious, aren't-I-so-clever way (and ultimately a stupid and complicated way) of saying "beyond the generic, there's nearly zero characterization")
Let's discuss these.
We all know having something too often can steal the luster from that thing. Eat ice cream 4 times a day for three weeks. Will you want more ice cream? If you have Chipotle for every meal, will Chipotle be as special? If you watch the same episode of Suburgatory thirty times in one day, will you want to watch that episode the next day? If you hang out with one friend for every hour of every day for three years, wouldn't you want some alone time, or to hang out with someone else? Someone who has never flown might love the first time they fly. What if they fly twelve more times that week? In the same way repetition can dull an experience, it also reveals. You become aware of details you may have missed the first time, the second time, the third, fourth, fifth, sixth. An example of this would be traveling to NYC (if you've never been). The first time you go: OH GEE WOW! LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE! Then you go again. You're used to the people. You notice...what..the clothes? The next time, you're used to the people and clothes, you notice the architecture. The fourth time you're there, you don't pay attention to the mass amount of people, the mass amount of fashion, all the unique features of the buildings: you notice unique moments and details. Etc. etc. etc. When these two facets of repetition--revelation and luster-stealing--combine you can not only expose something but also ridicule it. "Expose" and "Ridicule" happen to be two words found in the definition of "satire".
So what does ED repeat?
Door shutting. And? People appearing behind people. And? Things being normal in one shot then the camera cuts away then the camera cuts back and things are different ("different" here usually being "oh, something that is about to kill someone has appeared") (we'll call this the "scare cut"). (The escalating and repetitive gore doesn't need, I don't think, mentioning).
If you've read this far, I'm assuming you've seen the movie. You should know exactly what I'm talking about. Doors shut behind people like...15 times? I know I often hyperbolize in these inquiries, but...this time I'm being serious. FIF-teen times. (It's probably only 5-8 though). And people appear behind people like...five or eight times. And the "establish shot, cut, return to established shot but with freaky changes having appeared" occurs a noticeable amount.
One person might see this as poor filmmaking. Someone else might not have noticed the repetition. Then you have me who thinks it's satire. I think the filmmakers are commenting on the fact so many horror movies use these "spooky" moments, thinking they're being scary when in reality they're just using a common trope. Anyone who has watched multiple horror movies knows what to expect when a character walks up and looks into a mirror. Especially when there's an empty space right over the character's shoulder (established shot). Especially when the mirror doubles as a medicine cabinet and the person opens the cabinet (type of cut). We know when the cabinet closes they'll be a face or ghost or monster there (return, with change). For Evil Dead to avoid so many of the other horror character archetypes and horror tropes then to use and abuse doors, appearance, and scare cuts...there has to be a reason. The only logical reason to me is....
....waiting on you....
Lack of Continuity:
Jane Levy's Mia is buried underground. Then David hustles to dig her up, applies his home-made defibrillator, annnnnnnddddd...nothing. She's still dead. He gets up and walks away. 10 steps or so? Mia speaks. David turns. She's up and clean and fine. At this moment, I wasn't sure if she was still possessed. Maybe this was a demonic trick? We've seen it before. Will he get close and then she returns to Demon Mia and attack him??? Nope. She wasn't possessed. It wasn't a trick. She simply went from being partially buried and dead to being up and fine. In a drama, this would be weird and, I think, unforgivable. In Evil Dead, it's part of the hilarity.
Other gaps in continuity:
-Did they bury Grandpa, or what happened?
-Why are there skinned cats hanging in the basement?
-When did the hillbilly shooting his burning daughter scene take place?
-Then there are all the rules involving the fact five people had to die for the bloody rain to come and the demon-girl to rise from the ground...There were five people in the cabin. All five died. Except Mia came back. And the demon was exorcised from Mia before David was killed. So...at most four people died while the demon possessed Mia (if we even count Mia...was she dead?). By the time Mia's brought back to life, only three people have died. So when David is killed...how's that trigger the blood rain? The best answer to this: Grandpa counts.
Lack of Characterization:
Natalie, the blonde girl, is, as far as we're shown, not a slut. She's not overtly dumb. She's not really..anything. Natalie is given nothing except "This is my girlfriend." As far as I can tell, her only function to the plot is to die. Which is contrasted by the fact Mia has an arc that's more defined than the arc of your typical movie heroine's "I just need to fucking survive". Mia is attempting to beat addiction. Which means a viewer can see the entire movie as a metaphor for battling with addiction. Here you have two ends of the spectrum: one character is given more-than-usual depth and the other is a piece of meat to be carved. I don't think this an accident. Anyone who builds a movie up to a girl shoving a chainsaw into a demon's mouth in order to destroy that demon is smart.
"You said this is lack of characterization, yet then you talk about how characterized Mia is!"
I didn't see there's NO characterization whatsoever. Mia and David are, by far, the most defined characters in the movie. We know backstory about them. We know things they did when they were kids. We know about their mom. We know they have/had a pet dog named Grandpa. Everything we know about Eric, Olivia and Natalie comes from present-moment actions: characterization born out of actions and reactions. These definitely tell us something about who these people are. But not enough. We don't even see them in a place that isn't this cabin. At least in I Know What you Did Last Summer or Scream 4 or Saw 5 or The Grudge or Planet Terror or almost every normal horror movie: there's an effort made to show/discuss the lives the characters were leading prior to the horrific events.
For example. Do you realize there are three subplots in this movie: the addiction, the brother-sister relationship, and the reunion of David and Eric? The David/Eric subplot is, to me, the closest thing to a romantic plot Evil Dead has. They're distant. Then they work together. Then they make-up. Then Eric dies saving David. Then Undead Possessed Eric mortally stabs David, so David locks himself in the house and sets the house on fire to destroy Undead Possessed Eric and save Mia. Which means Eric and David burn together in the house. Awwww. It reminds me of this video, just without all the physical abuse. When has another mainstream horror movie had two dudes carry the romance-elements of the horror movie?
Except this "romance" is, for the viewer, as "huh? what's going on?"-inducing as a good haiku. We're told Eric and David were close. Then David distanced himself. Which is why Eric and David aren't real friendly with each other while in the cabin. There's no further backstory. How long were they friends? They never share a memory together. There's no moment where one says to the other "After this, we should finally drive to Austin and see a concert" or something that shows they had plans, had things they had discussed and wanted to do together. The entire nature of the relationship is vague. For all we know, David and Eric could have had a three year long love affair, until David became scared of his homosexuality and left Eric and is now dating Natalie because he thinks he should even though he's not really attracted to her. There's no real evidence for that argument, but the movie is vacuous enough, the characters ill-defined enough, to make this theory plausible.
We've talked before about "extremes". Middle-ground is never interesting. Jack Sparrow is interesting because he is an extreme version of a pirate. Where as Agenor in Wrath of the Titans is not interesting because he's a less-extreme version (and thus a poor imitation) of Jack Sparrow. Middling characterization does what for us? Not much. And what do most sequels lack? Further characterization! Characters and places and themes are defined in the first movie. In the second, plot drives everything. And plot driven stories become hollow. Look at Lost. It went from a sweet mixture of characterization and plot to simply a frantic race to tie-up plot points and character arcs. This is why Cabin in the Woods went through the trouble of defining character and scenario. Whedon's greatest power is characterization, I think it's safe to say. He wanted to show you could do this in a horror movie and people would respond. Unlike say...Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D. The entire purpose of that movie is to show 3D murders. Evil Dead takes an interesting approach. On the one hand, there's the total "fuck it" mentality. Most everything in the plot lacks characterization.
I haven't watched every horror movie ever. Of the ones I have watched, Evil Dead has the least amount of characterization. It goes to great lengths to NOT characterize. I say: this is an extreme lack of characterization. Which is why I am elated, instead of being like James Berardinelli ("If the filmmakers don't want to invest much in the characters, why should the viewers?"). If Cabin in the Woods impaled the idea movie-goers care about the generic and repeated horror genre archetypes, Evil Dead laughs at the idea horror genre lovers at all care about characterization, much less the characters.
There's a point in Alvarez's Evil Dead where all its vehicles for satire form into a Voltron-like being:
Yes, yes, I do.
The climactic action of the film is absurd and excessive: girl inserts working chainsaw into demons mouth, spraying a mist of blood visible during a rain of blood, thus killing the demon which melts back into the ground and ends the blood rain.
The final action of the movie by Mia? Limping off into the woods. With only one arm.
One could view this as nice. She won! Especially if you're continuing to watch the supernatural events as metaphoric for drug addiction: she conquered it! Yay!
Except if you're viewing it as a world within which the character exists...and you look at the details...oh shit. Mia has only one arm. She's covered in blood. She has to hike x-amount of miles through the woods. How long has it been since she's had food? Not to mention four people are dead. We could assume Eric and Olivia and Natalie would have people who are concerned about their whereabouts. Mia could face four counts of murder. Even if you do think she's beaten her cocaine addiction...uh...three crucial elements of her support system have been killed. Her parents are gone. We don't know if she'll be strong now and not do drugs (though her heading into that sunshine could signify her having that strength) or if she's horrified and won't know how to cope and will go right back to drugs. Was the flood at the creek a byproduct of the Necronomicon? Is it gone now? Will it still be there? Can she even make it out of the woods? Will wolves eat her? We don't know. The movie leaves its main character in a pretty shitty predicament (more commentary on the horror genre?).
When the camera leaves Mia, leaves the sunlight, finds the book: the book is open to its middle contents. The pages flip backwards and the book closes. We're left with that final image: the shut Necronomicon. A book that summons demons. A book that keeps being opened. A book we don't know the end of. And a book that's existence is unexplained.
After writing all of this, I think I explored the wrong thing. If I proved the point that, yes, Evil Dead is satirizing the horror genre just like The Cabin in the Woods is but uses different methods...and I proved that point by saying "this, this, this and this all have satirical meaning!"...doesn't that mean the final image of the book has satirical meaning as well? Especially since it deviates so much from the original. Given my stance, this must have satirical meaning. And if it must...then what is it?
We already said the end of Cabin is saying viewers WON'T be upset if horror movies went beyond the usual gimmicks and situations and archetypes--if horror movies tried new things. Viewers won't freak out and "end the world".
In Evil Dead the camera leaves the injured girl limping through the woods to focus on the demonic book closing. Our last image is of the closed book.
"Well...So what does it mean? What's it satirizing?"
Did I Like It:
Yes. For various reasons.
One. I love Jane Levy. I think she's fantastic. Do you realize how demanding her role was for this movie? The range! She has to play a frantic addict, to being chased by a demon, to being molested by a tree, to having a crumbling psyche and scared out of her mind, to being fully possessed by a demon, to getting buried alive, to then being chased by a demon again, to fighting the demon. I think she delivered to the max. There's an earnestness I feel she brings to roles where I can tell she's just...really into it? Like an athlete who you can tell is putting in max effort all the time.
You should watch Suburgatory.
Two. The absurdity. Absurdism is my favorite dish. And, I know: typically Absurdism refers to philosophical notion of the tension between seeking meaning in existence and finding nothing, that the hunt for meaning is what's absurd. I'm appropriating the word and changing its meaning to the "a creative style in which details inserted into otherwise realistic depictions are incongruous with what has been established as 'normal' or 'real' and thus confound the belief what's happening is 'normal' or 'real.'" That's a rough draft definition, subject to changes, but...we have a basic definition. And I'm not just talking goofy. I put Surrealism under Absurdism. I put "Superheroes" under Absurdism.
Anyway. Realism isn't really my cup of tea. I enjoy escalation and surprise and incongruity. Which is why I love Suburgatory. Random, absurd things happen in that show all the time. Like a moment where Jane Levy is walking down the street and a suburban woman is grilling a pair of baby shoes in her driveway. It makes no sense. It just fits into the aesthetic that suburbanites are insane. So the duck tape. The excessive blood vomiting. The chainsaw-to-the-face. The creepy demon talk. The lack of characterization. The lack of continuity. It's all ridiculous to me. All absurd. All hilarious.
As simple as the addiction metaphor is...it went a long way to win me over. Such an easy method of giving a plot deeper meaning. But once that deeper meaning is established, we're able to view every action in two ways: at face value, but also as metaphor. So Mia being covered in blood at the end of the movie and everyone else dead...we can take that at face value. But also view it as a very cynical look at the battle with addiction. Olivia cutting her face off. We can view it as "she's possessed and the demon made her do it". Or we can view it metaphorically: trying to help someone who is addicted and freaking out can cause so much stress that we start to hurt ourselves, or that we are hurting ourselves without even noticing it."
And if you've read this far, I'll tell you what the final image means. I believe the cut away from Mia to the book that's opened to the middle portion is significant. Obviously Mia's story isn't over. And we see the book isn't at its end either. There's a connection here. But the book shuts closed. We don't know how it ends. Just like we don't know what happens with Mia. To me, this is satirizing the idea that we care to know what happens. That it's saying once the gore and scares and horror are finished...we don't care. We came for blood. We got blood. The poor girl? Forget about her. Which makes Alvarez's movie very cynical. As existentially and sociologically gory as it is physically. What's more disgusting? The tongue being split by the knife? Or that final shot stating we the audience are the true, torturing demons? Because Mia, at the very end isn't just free of the demon. She's freed from our gaze as well.