(On Cable TV, March 2017) Horror is about execution, and movies like Don’t Breathe prove it. On paper, it sounds like a borderline-reprehensible dirty little home invasion thriller, with bad people (thieves) running against an even worse opponent (a not-so-disabled veteran). There’s a scene late in the movie that reads like a gratuitous shock fit to sink an entire film. But on-screen, thanks to director Fede Alvarez, the film works far better than expected: the tension runs high, the direction calls attention to itself and the pacing is uncommonly effective. There’s a very good long tracking shot as the thieves explore their target house that cleanly establishes the geography of the place, even as it stops to focus on details that will become essential later on. The contrived premise feels far less unlikely when presented on-screen, and the turkey-baster scene becomes a nasty piece of primal revulsion. Perhaps best of all is the feeling that underneath the shocks and violence, it’s not an entirely meaningless journey—the survivors earn their fate with a dash of eternal anxiety. Alvarez is a gifted director, but I can’t wait until he lets go of his lowest instincts and tackle a more ambitious film. Elsewhere in the movie Steven Lang is a force of nature, while Jane Levy eventually becomes the anchor of the film. It amounts to a small surprise of a thriller. Horror fans may want to note that in-between Don’t Breathe and Hush, there seems to be a mini-trend of well-executed disability home-invasion thrillers.
(On Cable TV, November 2013) This remake was unnecessary. After all, they have remade 1981’s The Evil Dead, and it was called Evil Dead 2, and it remains one of my favourite films ever. So I went into this Evil Dead walking backwards, not expecting much… and “not much” is what I got. I’ll grant that director Fede Alvarez knows what he’s doing: the film drips with atmosphere, and the direction of the film is amazingly self-assured for what it tries to do. Unfortunately, the film really wants to be the kind of film that leaves me cold: balls-to-the-wall gory horror with enough pouring blood to drown entire litters of kittens. Story-wise, Evil Dead feels like an empty, poorly-motivated return to clichés: Oh, here’s an evil book, here’s someone dumb enough to read it out loud, here are the inevitable consequences. Wasn’t The Cabin in the Woods an attempt to move on from this kind of thing? All of which to say that despite the film’s tree rape (sigh… again), mutilated jaws, self-amputations (can electric knives cut through bone?), pouring rain of blood, doppelganger fight and chain-saw eating, there’s not a whole lot of interest here. The late protagonist-switching is interesting from a narrative point of view, but that’s a thin veneer of interest in what is a by-the-number gore-fest, even if it’s a well-made one. It could have been worse, but by aiming itself squarely at gore-hounds, Evil Dead earns itself a big faintly-nauseated shrug from everyone else.