This movie boasts the tagline of “The most terrifying film you will ever experience.” Frankly, that should be taken as merely a marketing idea used to generate interest and talk about the movie. Still, it requires a response from pretty much every movie reviewer out there. For me, no, it was not at all the most terrifying movie I have ever experienced. My feelings on the film are mixed. This has something to do with whether it is a good remake or not, and almost as much to do with if it’s an effective horror movie.
Five twenty-something friends become holed up in a remote cabin with the intent of allowing their friend Mia (Jane Levy) to undergo a full detox from her drug addictions. However, when they discover a Book of the Dead, they unwittingly summon up dormant demons living in the nearby woods, which possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left intact to fight for survival.
I go into these remakes with the intent of judging them on their own merits because do so otherwise almost dooms you to hating it outright. However, even though it has been a while since I’ve last seen The Evil Dead, it’s not a complicated movie to remember. Partially, I feel this is a movie best experienced if you haven’t seen the original because I found myself sort of just waiting for it to get to the point. I saw it going through a couple of the motions from the original as well as setting up its drug intervention plot, and I was just waiting for it to get the new, good stuff. This is just the first act of the film, but the film does feel a little uneven in never really giving you a sense of distinct plot progression. This is partly due to knowing the original as well as I do. Knowing how the original was plotted out, where the story turns were, and how and where it ended caused a problem for me here. This remake lead me down the same path that the original took for long enough to where I anticipated it continuing down that same path, but then, only after I began to believe that did it throw a major swerve at me. My knowledge of the original film worked against my enjoyment of the remake because it kept making me believe it was going to do the same thing when it wasn’t. In the second act, there’s enough familiar material with a new spin on it to make it interesting, but it’s still familiar material that will stir up memories of what made those moments classics in the first place and how they are just here for fan service. They are surely well done moments, never betraying the severely serious horror tone, but yeah, they were just better back when they were original ideas instead of retreaded concepts.
This movie surely has some frightening scenes and definitely one terrifying moment. I did get some serious chills running through me at various points, but it took until all hell broke loose before any of that happened. Up until then, it was cheap jump scares of dark figures just lurking in the distance not actually doing anything, or having any relevance to what was going on. Even the reprise of the tree rape scene just felt monotonous because it was nothing new to me. Again, it’s an example of being familiar with the original being a detriment to experiencing this remake. I’m sure someone seeing that cold would be very frightened and unsettled by it. Ultimately, the film is a mix of creepiness, skin crawling sickening imagery, jump scares, and shock horror. I can get into the first two, but the latter two mostly left me a little lukewarm. As I’ve said in many previous horror movie reviews, it takes no talent to just soak the screen with gore, or have something jump out at you abruptly. I give more credit to well crafted suspense and tension, which there is some of that here, but mostly, Evil Dead wants to be shocking and creepy. There are a number of effective moments of frightening gore, but the movie didn’t keep me wrapped up in tension and fear.
The make-up effects are indeed top notch. The people responsible really did a fantastic job creating a very raw and visceral look to all the gore. This all looked like practical blood splattering everywhere, and the make-up work on the possessed characters was well done, even if it lacked originality. Frankly, their make-up design was more akin to Linda Blair in The Exorcist than any Deadites we saw in the original Evil Dead trilogy. The self-mutilation also follows more along those lines instead of the demon possession simply disfiguring each person by default. Frankly, yes, the self-mutilation is simply there for more shock value, which is fine, but it only carries the film so far. What worked better in the original was the severe whirlwind of insanity the characters were caught up in, but I never felt like this film jacked itself up to that level.
The film is nicely cast with a few good talents, and a few that were just forgettable. My favorite was Lou Taylor Pucci, who portrays Eric the very 1970’s looking friend who does unleash the evil, but is ultimately the one guy with his head screwed on straight to understand what’s going on. You have to respect those characters in a horror movie. The guy that knows what has to be done, and doesn’t disillusion himself about any of it. Everything’s gone to hell, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to end it. Jane Levy is also stellar. She takes Mia on a very wild ride from the troubled addict to the psychotic and manipulative demon possessed girl to a completely different turn in the final act. She’s got some excellent talent, and she shows some special diversity with all she is saddled with in this role. Shiloh Fernandez is fairly good. He doesn’t standout too greatly, but he does a good job that services the role well. As David, Mia’s brother, he has moments of compassion, conflict, and conviction with the latter two being his strong suits. Those are the aspect where he becomes a stronger presence on screen. The other two ladies on the cast are the forgettable ones. Jessica Lucas’ Olivia, the friend with some kind of medical knowledge trying to ease Mia’s withdrawal symptoms, just came off as heartless and unlikeable. For a friend trying to cure Mia of her addictions, she felt a little too much like a borderline bitch than a caring friend. Elizabeth Blackmore as David’s girlfriend is even more bland to where she might as well have blended into the cabin’s woodwork.
Where the original movie was a very rough quality movie shot on 16mm film, this remake is extremely polished. I’m sure that might turn some people off who feel the remake should adhere to that same quality, but for what it is, this Evil Dead is magnificently well shot all around. There’s some very moody and atmospheric hazy lighting in the daylight scenes. The woods are covered in this low hanging fog that just creates a beautiful grim visual. There is a great use of darkness to unsettle you, and even create the most terrifying moment in the film for me. There are things jumping out of the shadows, and then, there’s something frightening creeping out the shadows in the most unreal way possible. The chills hit me worse than a subzero winter breeze. The color palette of the movie is also very dark, dreary, and grounded. It has its own gritty quality despite the polished production values.
Now, I almost think the movie is too ambitious for its own good. I like that the film does throw serves at the fans of the original, and gives you an entirely different third act. It is well setup earlier on, but is entirely unexpected. It’s an intense and excellently done climax with plenty of blood soaked mania, but it’s almost being so severely different because it has to be. In order for this to be a distinctly different film in concept and execution, it had to do something very ambitious and extreme. In execution, this unexpected climax is amazing, but I’m not so wowed by the concept of it. Again, this is a point where being a fan of the original is a mixed bag. Yes, you get surprised when the film begins to take on its own path, and throwing ideas and twists at you that you didn’t expect. Yet, when they happen, it took me a while to actually accept them at face value, and bend my mind a little more to follow their creative direction. It’s hard to explain my reaction in detail without delving into spoilers, which I try to avoid in reviews of newly released movies. Simply said, a new form of evil emerges after there is a near polar shift in fate for one character, and it seems like such a severe story twist that I’m not sure it’s really earned. While these ideas and elements are all setup earlier on, it takes a bit to really accept them as reality in this story.
I’m sure there will be people who find this to be a very frightening theatrical experience. Those that do get scared to death by shock horror and a few jump scares will love this. The creepiness is not as abundant as either of those or the sickening display of gore. This is surely far from being a bad horror movie or remake. I just think that if a remake is going to take things down its own path, it should stay on that path and not try to constantly throw swerves at you. Either be original or be a retread. I don’t like a film that does half-and-half. There are nice tips of the hat to those that love Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic that are subtle, but the direct carbon copy story beats when it repeatedly shows the capacity for original ideas did detract from my experience. If you do have an open mind, you should go see this as it is a well made horror movie, but it is far from being the best or even most terrifying one I’ve ever seen. For those that do go see it, there is a post-credits scene that is indeed “groovy.”
I very much love this film, and count it as an all time favorite. I saw it twice in the theatre in 2005 because I was very much enthralled by the concept of the film and the excellent execution of all its characters and ideas. It has since remained a strong favorite of the genre for me, and has driven my fandom of John Constantine further. I was not knowledgeable about him before seeing this adaptation, but in the years since then, I have become a fan. In the Hellblazer comics from DC / Vertigo, he was a blonde Englishman created by the widely revered Alan Moore and visually based off of Sting, the front man for The Police. Obviously, that does not fit the description of Keanu Reeves, who portrays the title character as a dark haired American in Los Angeles, and there are numerous other changes here that deviate from the source material. That inevitably irritated numerous hardcore Hellblazer fans, but since this was my introduction to him, I can allow both versions to co-exist in my fandom. There are many reasons why I highly love this film including its gorgeous visual style, the world it showcases, and the potential of the characters.
It is said that whoever possesses the Spear of Destiny holds the fate of the world in their hands, and the Spear of Destiny has just been found and put into the hands of evil influences. In Los Angeles, exorcist and occult detective John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) begins to see foreboding signs of something big and unfriendly coming with demons forcing their way into our world, but at the same time, the anti-social chain smoker is diagnosed with lung cancer. It’s not so much the diagnosis that troubles him as the knowledge of where he’s going. John was born with a gift he didn’t want, the ability to clearly recognize the half-breed angels and demons that walk the earth in human skin, and Constantine was driven to take his own life to escape the tormenting clarity of his vision, but he failed. Now, marked as an attempted suicide with a temporary lease on life, the bitter hard-drinking, hard-living Constantine seeks a reprieve from his Hellbound fate. He patrols the earthly border between heaven and hell, hoping in vain to earn his way to salvation by sending the devil’s foot soldiers back to the depths. Unfortunately, he gains no absolution from the half-breed angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), and no consolation from strenuous allies such as the ominous former witch doctor Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou). They all adhere to “The Balance” which keeps half-breeds from directly interfering in human affairs in order to settle a wager between God and the Devil for the souls of all mankind. When desperate but skeptical LAPD Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) enlists his help in solving the mysterious death of her beloved psychic twin sister, their investigation pushes them deep into a subversive plot to use the Spear of Destiny to bring forth an evil that threatens to destroy humanity. Caught in a catastrophic series of otherworldly events, the two become inextricably involved, and seek to find their own peace at whatever cost.
Director Francis Lawrence came from a music video background, and that can be hit or miss when moving to feature films. However, Lawrence’s background was clearly a benefit as he injects a very powerful and epic visual style into this film. Director of Photography Philippe Rousselot realizes that immersive vision brilliantly. His composition is rock solid creating very engaging visuals that pull an audience into the story and characters. There is depth to spare in his frames, and plenty of grace and integrity in how he shoots everything. There’s never any handheld camera work. It’s all fluid movement that contributes to the overall enveloping otherworldly tone of the picture. The use of color temperatures is very key to the atmosphere as it accentuates the dramatic tones throughout with a vibrant palette. This is a gracefully shot film with great attention to creating a unique atmosphere and tone in its visuals.
The overall quality of the visual effects are stunning. They are exceptionally consistent and of an amazing high quality. From subtle effects like the fiery glint in the eyes of demons to the enveloping landscape of the Hell version of Los Angeles, they create a complete, rich, textured, and full world for John Constantine to exist within that is truly convincing. The fearsome demonic creatures seen throughout are designed with consistency and originality. This feels like a world with its own weathered history, and attention is paid to every detail to present it as such. The entire “into the light” effect in the climax is awesome as the shadows are literally pulled away to force the evil presence into view. There is never just one effect used over and over again as a crutch. The film is full of vibrant effects that give the film its fantastical flare. Overall, every effect is just executed and presented with amazing artistry complementing Francis Lawrence’s vision beautifully.
I also very highly enjoy the score to Constantine. It has a great atmospheric, haunting electronic style that further fleshes out the otherworldly quality of the film, but still incorporates plenty of traditional score elements that punctuate the rousing, dramatic sequences as well as the softer, more intimate emotions of the film. Composers Klaus Badelt & Brian Tyler put together one hell of a unique musical accomplishment with this. I’ve never heard a score quite like this before, and it works so amazingly well. There is a great use of melody all throughout which enhances the emotional depth that this film is truly rich with. This is definitely a film that takes a different approach to things to give an audience a very distinctive identity for an all encompassing experience. The addition of the song “Passive” from A Perfect Circle is wicked cool in my opinion. It truly set a great tone entering into Papa Midnite’s club.
These enveloping elements wrap together to create a very rich story with a tone full of integrity and gravity. It can be a very haunting and scary film that uses horror elements at times, but is best categorized as a supernatural dark fantasy action film. The action in the film are not big set pieces with spectacular stunts. John’s not some bad ass action hero who can slug it out with a demon. Instead, he uses his occult and demonic knowledge as well as his skills as a con artist to help him win battles. He fights smart using the tools he has acquired which exploit the weaknesses of his enemies such as holy water, Moses’ shroud, a pair of Holy Cross brass knuckles, dragon’s breath, and various eclectic items provided to him by his allies.
This story is partially inspired by the Dangerous Habits comics storyline, which I have read. There’s little directly adapted from that story, and is more just taking the premise of Constantine being diagnosed with lung cancer and having to cope with that. How he deals with it and the resolutions of the comic and the film are very different, but both greatly show off John’s cunning skill as a con artist to varying degrees.
Constantine himself is very fascinating, and I think this version of him is well portrayed by Keanu Reeves. I am quite a big fan of his work ranking Point Break as one of my absolute favorite films ever. I find his work quite enjoyable, and he has some highly impressive acting ability. I think his approach tends to be more subtle, and with Constantine, he really drives home a very diverse character. Reeves showcases Constantine’s jaded personality with depth and purpose. He brings out that worn down, weathered texture that makes the character so intriguing and surprising. He can be an outright asshole because he’s been both plagued by the knowledge he has about the world around him, and that he’s destined to spend eternity in Hell, regardless of what he does. He’s tired and frustrated by these rules that these so-called “higher beings” have imposed upon humanity for their own sport, and he knows there’s little he can do to combat that. Keanu gives the character enough edge while still maintaining an underlying sense of humanity which evolves through the film. As the story goes along, he becomes more and more invested in Angela as a person instead of just her being a cog in a larger plot. You gradually see the bond form between the characters, and how that starts to drive John’s actions. There’s a pivotal shift in there where he stops sulking in his own pain and starts seeing Angela’s. He sees her regret and how far she’s willing to go to mend it. John can still be an asshole, but ultimately, it’s just to those that deserve it. Reeves portrays these subtle and strong emotional beats powerfully showing that there’s more to Constantine beyond that spiteful, embittered exterior.
Another subtle part of John that’s retained from the comics is how his friends constantly pay the price for his battles. In the comics, John is haunted by the ghosts of his dead friends, and the screenwriters slipped a brief line in here about John not needing another ghost following him around. So, it’s no wonder that he’s as cynical and jaded as he is, but it’s also these circumstances which drive him to fight. He challenges everyone on their egotistical or hypocritical behavior, and allows no one to slide.
However, the arc for the character takes him from being a self-serving person who fights evil for his own sake to someone that does the right thing for the sake of others. It takes nothing away from the hardened core of the character, it just makes him an actual hero by the end. That is helped immensely by Rachel Weisz’s emotionally impactful performance. Reeves and Weisz had previously worked together on the 1996 film Chain Reaction as love interests, and perhaps that added a stronger chemistry between them. In this film, their chemistry is exceptionally solid and tight. They have great back-and-forth dialogue with sharp timing and rich character dynamics. Angela is also easily able to stand up to John’s abrasive attitude which is a welcomed quality. Weisz strongly portrays the more emotionally and psychologically vulnerable counter-balance of the story. This allows an audience to have a relatable conduit into the character of John Constantine and his supernatural world. Rachel Weisz is an incredible actress showcasing a wide range of abilities here. She is remarkably powerful bringing out the emotional pain that Angela has deep within. However, while Angela is vulnerable, she is a police detective, and thus, Weisz never makes her appear helpless or incapable of defending herself. She has a definite strong will and confidence about her mixed in with a grounded, engaging charm. It’s simply that the character been impacted by tragic events, and is thrust into a potentially frightening scenario which brings out those fearful or unstable elements in her. Weisz handles it all with dramatic weight and grace.
It is also immensely impressive how strong the supporting cast is in Constantine. Djimon Hounsou has such an awesome presence as the witch doctor turned night club owner Papa Midnite. His deep voice and subtle charisma give weight and gravity to his performance. He can be greatly imposing and intimidating without even standing up in his initial scene. Hounsou and Reeves spark a fascinating chemistry. They play the characters with a sense of shared history which has its turbulent areas which causes friction and some antagonism between them. The screenwriters had a good philosophy of the best way to convey exposition about a character is to show them working. You get to know more about Midnite and Constantine through what they do and how they go about doing it than can really be conveyed through straight dialogue interactions. This is showcased beautifully in the sequence with “The Chair” which allows John to see the path the Spear of Destiny has taken recently, and to find out where Angela has been taken. It’s a manner of operating alluding to information that is necessary for them to know to do what they need to do, but is not necessary to be spelled out for the audience. This further reflects the sense that this a world with a long, textured history between characters, and it is presented in a very smart way that never bogs down the film with extraneous exposition. Midnite himself has a very pleasing arc in the story that ultimately shows Hounsou’s range and charm. He makes the character very fascinating, imposing, but ultimately, highly pleasing.
Tilda Swinton is immaculately graceful and elegant as the half-breed angel Gabriel. The filmmakers chose to go with an androgynous quality for the character, and absolutely wanted Swinton for the role. They chose incredibly well. Her performance has a gentle compassion that eventually turns into a subtle megalomaniacal mindset. She also has an ethereal aura and presence about her that is pitch perfect. It’s a nice dynamic when Constantine goes to see her with him ranting and calling out the hypocrisy at hand, but she offers up a very warm, motherly tone with him. They are both trying to make each other see things from their perspective, and neither is entirely in the right. There is a very aristocratic, snobbish mentality from Gabriel that John can’t stomach, and it works so exceptionally well for this character. It’s such a remarkable performance that the words to describe it in depth escape me.
Now, this film was before Shia LeBouf started grating on peoples’ nerves, but here, there’s enough heart and charm with him as Chas to make his performance a pleasure. Chas is spirited and driven to be given the chance to be of real assistance to Constantine instead of just his personal cab driver, but John just knows the danger of allowing him to do so. Yet, Chas is eventually given the chance to show his worth. As with everyone else, the chemistry is dead on the mark perfect. Gavin Rossdale’s turn as the demon Balthazar is oozing with charisma. He relishes being engulfed in evil, and that delicious smarmy arrogance just pours out over the screen. The tension and spite between him and John is thick as can be. You can’t help but love and hate him all at the same time. All of the actors throughout the film really inhabited their characters with exceptional commitment and nuance, and came together as a cohesive whole to deliver something diverse and marvelous.
Of course, there is Peter Stormare’s magnificent performance as Lucifer himself. There have been so many portrayals of the Devil over the years in cinema from some massively talented actors, and each portrayal has been unique. Stormare takes unique to a whole new level here. The physicality alone is unsettling as if he’s trying to uncomfortably fit back into a human form like it’s an old out of shape body suit, and it results in some peculiar and tense nervous energy. The look is striking enough without devolving into shock. The shaved eyebrows and shorn haircut along with the tattoos really present a standout visual that separates Lucifer from everyone else in the film. Stormare takes all of this to forge a weirdly eccentric Devil that doesn’t need to flaunt an ego or boast of his power. His creepy, chilling presence sells everything. The addition of the pure white suit and bare feet was a nice touch, and it really fits the visual aesthetics of the film.
While I have nothing against a well done origin, it is very commendable that this is not an origin story spending a large percentage of the film showing how Constantine became the man he is today. His back story is not even revealed until well into the second act as we get to know it alongside Angela, and allusions to other shared histories are sprinkled throughout. The film treats its audience as intelligent by not having to explain every little thing. It presents a world, gradually lays out the general parameters of how it works, and then, allows it to envelop the audience. I like this approach for the character because there is a lot of John Constantine history that is very relevant to the character, but it would be nigh impossible to hit all the poignant marks to develop him fully in a two hour film. Starting a film series here is very interesting because it takes John from the jaded, weathered depths to someone more purposeful and formidable. It is a greatly executed arc wrapped up in a strong plotline backed by some excellent talents in front of and behind the camera.
It seems hard to judge where this movie stands in terms of general consensus. It’s not one of those comic book movies everyone talks about, or includes on the list of the best or worst adaptations. I seem to perceive this as a film that had good commercial success, but tends to get overlooked for no apparent reason. Professional critics were divided on it, but the thing with critics is that they get paid to go see movies they are not always pre-disposed to enjoy. This was a movie that appealed to my tastes via its marketing, and it did blow me away. Again, the hardcore fans of Hellblazer likely had their passionate gripes with all the changes made to the established elements of the property, but it’s not a bad film at all. It’s exceptionally well made from a filmmaker with great vision and artistry, and features an amazing cast that put their all into it. From an objective point of view, it’s a greatly entertaining and satisfying film. It has plenty of interesting action, an excellently crafted world, fantastic, stunning visual effects, a unique and fascinating score, and is just generally well written all the way around. I really love this film, and I love what I’ve read in the Hellblazer trade paperbacks. Both offer me something different but equally satisfying to my tastes for supernatural horror and dark fantasy. If you’re unfamiliar with the property, this film can ease you into the heavier subject matter and grittier feel of the comics, but they are two unmistakably different presentations on the characters and the world they inhabit. Taking the film on its own merits, it’s a highly imaginative, excellent piece of work that is worth investing your time and interest in.