The Films of Fede Alvarez
Evil Dead (April 4/13)
Inspired by Sam Raimi's 1981 original, Evil Dead follows four young adults (Shiloh Fernandez's David, Lou Taylor Pucci's Eric, Jessica Lucas' Olivia, and Elizabeth Blackmore's Natalie) as they arrive at a remote cabin to help a friend (Jane Levy's Mia) kick her heroin addiction - with chaos unfolding after the gang, having discovered the series' nefarious Book of the Dead, inadvertently summons several demons residing in the nearby woods. It's immediately clear that the movie's decision to turn its hero into a junkie is an interesting one, as Mia's behavior is initially shrugged off as the rantings and ravings of a detoxing drug abuser - with the film's promising vibe perpetuated by an impressively captivating pre-credits prologue. There's little doubt, however, that one's efforts at embracing the almost laughably familiar narrative - particularly in the wake of The Cabin in the Woods - are stymied by a preponderance of generic, bland characters, as scripters Fede Alvarez, Diablo Cody, and Rodo Sayagues offer up a collection of one-dimension and hopelessly moronic protagonists that are, by and large, utterly devoid of compelling qualities. (It doesn't help, either, that these people continually make eye-rollingly stupid decisions, with Eric's decision to read aloud from the aforementioned Book of the Dead certainly standing as the best and most inexplicable example of this.) The sole saving grace here is filmmaker Alvarez's gleeful emphasis on admittedly breathtaking instances of gore, with the appreciatively over-the-top bent of such moments injecting the otherwise lifeless proceedings with periodic bursts of much-needed energy. The end result is a disappointingly run-of-the-mill horror effort that remains a far cry from Raimi's superior predecessor, which is a shame, really, given the movie's continuing emphasis on grim, brutal happenings (ie this might be the most gruesome mainstream film to come around in over decade).
Directed by Fede Alvarez, Don't Breathe follows three friends (Jane Levy's Rocky, Dylan Minnette's Alex, and Daniel Zovatto's Money) as they break into a blind man's (Stephen Lang) house intending to steal a large cache of money - with problems inevitably ensuing as it becomes more and more apparent that said blind man is far from defenseless. There's little doubt that Don't Breathe rarely lives up to the tremendous potential of its setup, as Alvarez, along with co-screenwriter Rodo Sayagues, offers up a first half devoted almost entirely to the characters' cat-and-mouse shenanigans within the aforementioned house (which is, of course, claustrophobic and dimly lit). And while some of this stuff is initially somewhat suspenseful and involving, the increasingly repetitious midsection ensures that one's interest dwindles steadily as time progresses - with the less-than-enthralling vibe compounded by an ongoing emphasis on sequences that probably worked better on paper (eg the surviving protagonists must evade Lang's character's advances within the confines of a pitch-black basement). It's not until Don't Breathe moves into its comparatively engrossing third act that it becomes the tense thriller one might've anticipated, with, especially, a decidedly surprising plot twist at around the one-hour mark infusing the proceedings with a much-needed jolt of energy. It's the strength of that stretch, coupled with strong performances by Levy and Lang, that ultimately confirms Don't Breathe's place as a passable horror effort, although it's clear that the film could (and should) have been much, much better.