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The East

Everyone’s had that thought when bad things happen to bad people: they deserved it. For instance, would anyone really feel sadness if some faulty wiring caused Kansas’ infamous Westboro Baptist Church to burn down? Probably not. It’s not that we’re hopeful these things will happen, but when they do, it’s hard not to feel like some type of poetic justice has been served. A similar public mindset exists on the discussion of supposed “eco-terrorists,” groups that target corporations and big oil businesses that don’t play by the rules. What these groups do is illegal, but when the actions of those companies have undoubtedly impacted us in a negative way, can we justify ignoring it?

That complex question is at the heart of “The East.” When the titular group breaks into an oil magnate’s home in the opening moments of the film and spreads oil all over his house in response to the dumping of untold amounts of oil in the ocean, one can’t help but feel conflicted. They are clearly breaking the law, but is their greater message important enough to overshadow that fact? There’s no easy answer to this question and it’s why the film, as silly as it can sometimes be, works, even if only slightly.

The East consists of a ragtag group of people who aim to attack a number of large corporations in the coming months. The leader is Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) and he runs the operation. With him are Izzy (Ellen Page), Luca (Shiloh Fernandez) and Sarah (Brit Marling), the latter of whom is actually an undercover operative from a private intelligence firm tasked with infiltrating the group and digging up enough information to eventually bring them down.

The film begins as one might expect, with Sarah eager to prove her worth to her firm and jump in the fray, but what she doesn’t expect is to find is a group of people she can actually connect with. She begins to understand why the East does what they do and quickly realizes that these aren’t bad people; they’re just people, with beliefs and opinions just like the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us, when they see something they consider unjust, they do something about it. One of the film’s greatest strengths is that, for the majority of its runtime, it treats its characters fairly. Despite some strange moments, the East isn’t treated like a group of deranged terrorists, but rather people with a passion, however misguided it may arguably be.

As the film goes along, Sarah begins to feel the emotional and mental confliction anyone would. She knows they’re doing wrong, but the wrong they’re doing is merely in the eyes of the law. The real question is, what is considered truly wrong? How can one define it when perceptions of it vary between different people? This internal battle rages inside Sarah and Marling does a wonderful job bringing it out. Her emotional cues are subtle, but you can feel the pang of uneasiness that lies just beneath her pleasant veneer. She embodies the complex feelings one can have towards issues like this that aren’t so black and white.

Where “The East” falters is in its lousy, anti-climactic ending that takes many of these difficult questions and answers them rather bluntly. The entire movie is spent exploring these characters and showing them as the complex human beings they are, only to scrap the idea in the end. It’s an all too common cinematic case of a screenplay that loses faith in itself. A movie with ideas, provocative questions and intelligent themes suddenly turns into your typical Hollywood thriller and the conflicting emotions you may feel of certain characters while watching suddenly turns to disgust with their actions, all confliction thrown out the window. It’s no longer a question of, is what they’re doing and the motivation behind it right or wrong? The answer becomes all too clear.

With a different ending, “The East” could have been something special. Instead, it’s merely a movie that teases you with the possibility of intellectualism before stripping itself of the notion entirely. Although the performances are good and the direction is competent, it’s ultimately the story and the themes that make or break it. In that regard, it’s like a giant crack in a car’s windshield. It still serves its purpose, but all you can see when look at it is its obvious flaw.

The East receives 3/5


Evil Dead

Let’s just answer this question now. No, “Evil Dead” is not the “most terrifying film you will ever experience,” as its posters would lead you to believe. It would be tough to proclaim it even as the most terrifying film in recent memory, given the release of the excellent “Sinister” not too long ago. Perhaps the marketing for the movie wasn’t the wisest, unrealistically setting a bar the film was not likely to achieve. It’s a good thing you don’t judge a movie by its marketing though, because “Evil Dead” is nonetheless a frightening experience, one that will unnerve you, make you feel uncomfortable and perhaps even sicken you.

The story, as one might expect, is of little consequence, though it gives off the air of importance with its heavy set-up. Mia (Jane Levy) is a coke addict. She tried to kick the habit a number of times, but never could, so she and her friends, along with her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), head out to a cabin in the woods to recover, away from the civilization that exposed her to the drug. On one hand, this is a refreshing start. Most horror movies give little reason as to why a group of friends isolate themselves in some remote area beyond a cheap weekend-long party where drug use is encouraged. The opposite is true here, but it raises some issues with the film as a whole.

Although cliché, the no-reason set-up in something like the “Friday the 13th” remake promises nothing special. It typically puts the movie on a level of self-awareness, fully cognizant of what it is and what it intends to accomplish. But when a film sets up these plot threads and tries to give these characters back stories (however thin they may be), they must be followed through on. “Evil Dead” doesn’t do this, resulting in a screenplay that’s fresh with horror movie scares, but narratively inconsistent. Tack on a really lazy back story about Mia and David’s mother who died years ago and characters that are lacking in real personalities and you have a movie that gives you little reason to care.

So the fact that you still do is astonishing. It’s a testament to the craft of its making, which relies heavily on ambiance, lighting and shadows to deliver its thrills. While not devoid of a few cheap jump scares, “Evil Dead” is surprisingly restrained, in this regard at least. It’s more about things slowly crawling out of the shadows and building an atmosphere than it is about the “Gotcha!” moments so many horror movies rely on these days. Of course, when it comes to the violence, it’s another story altogether.

Although the original film and its sequels were indeed violent, their violence was one of two things: over-the-top or cheeky. It was never something to look away from or be disgusted by. This movie, on the other hand, is brutal. Its violence is absolutely relentless and, aside from a moment or two, very graphic, uncomfortably so at times. The reason is because the violence is visceral. Although most likely not to these extremes, you’ll know what some of this feels like. Most don’t know what it’s like to have something go through your arm, but we all know what it’s like to get a deep cut. Although one is clearly more painful than the other, the film wisely opts for the one we’ve felt, allowing us to recall our own pain while we watch those onscreen experience it. It’s not something everyone will enjoy, but it’s beneficial to a movie that obviously seeks to get some kind of reaction from its audience.

Clearly, this isn’t your 1981 “Evil Dead.” This is its own evil beast. The original was a scary movie, but it was also more humorous, both intentionally and unintentionally thanks to its campiness and low budget. There’s nothing funny about this. Any laughter you hear in the theater is most likely due to general uneasiness. There is some inherent amusement in the characters’ silly logic—first, they remark that it smells like something died in there, then they see a dried up pool of blood leading to the cellar, so their first thought is, “Yeah, let’s go down there”—but these are necessary elements that are expected in this genre, no matter how dumb they may be.

“Evil Dead” isn’t always pleasant, but horror movies needn’t be. The important thing is that it doesn’t feel exploitive like something like “The Human Centipede.” When dealing with this concept and source material, such chaos and brutality are warranted and even necessary in its telling. Admittedly, it’s a bit difficult to watch a movie like this when last year’s “Cabin in the Woods” so brilliantly skewered the subgenre, but it’s hard to deny its technical proficiency. There’s something here almost any horror aficionado will enjoy and to those fans of the original, who no doubt fear this will not live up to the “Evil Dead” name, rest assured that it does, just in a different way (and there are plenty of nods to those movies; listen closely and you might hear an echo of Bruce Campbell’s dialogue from the original). When you factor in the post-credits tease that I dare not give away, it gives fans plenty to be excited for. This franchise is in good hands and if Sam Raimi does indeed follow through on his promise of a fourth “Evil Dead,” this film will surely complement it nicely.

Evil Dead receives 3.5/5


Red Riding Hood

From the director of Twilight, the writer of Orphan and the actress from Letters to Juliet and Dear John comes Red Riding Hood, a disaster that somehow manages to be worse than all of those movies. It’s like the most mediocre talent in Hollywood got together one day and said, “Let’s make something awful, something that is far worse than anything we’ve ever been involved in.” How else could you explain its final outcome?

Red Riding Hood is a retelling of the classic fairy tale about a little girl who ventures through the woods to deliver food to her sick grandmother. Except it’s nothing like that. Instead, it’s an adult take on the story (“adult” in the sense that there are adults in it, not that it is in any way mature or interesting to those who aren’t 13 year old girls).

It takes place in an ambiguous time period where arranged marriages still exist and bars are still called “taverns,” except all the characters use modern grammar and speak in modern dialects, which totally makes sense. Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, a young adult who is in love with Peter, played by Shiloh Fernandez. Ever since they were little children, they’ve had an affinity for each other, but now that they are older, they are being torn apart because Valerie’s parents have arranged for her to marry Henry, played by Max Irons. Meanwhile (and more importantly), a werewolf has been terrorizing their little village, so they have summoned Father Solomon, played by Gary Oldman, to find it and kill it. But as they soon learn, the werewolf is someone who lives among them.

Red Riding Hood does nearly everything wrong. From the smallest problems to the biggest, one can’t help but stare at the screen in awe, strangely intrigued by just how unbelievably terrible the movie is. You watch it the same way you would watch a burning building. It’s a terrible sight, but morbid curiosity makes it so hard to look away. Essentially, the film revolves around a love triangle and a werewolf, familiar territory for anyone who has ever experienced Twilight, which this movie closely resembles, minus the vampires. There are longing stares, awkward love scenes and cliché dialogue that consists of gems like, “If you love her, you’ll let her go.”

While it sometimes feels like the story of the werewolf ripping people to shreds takes a back seat to the uninteresting romance, the film never misses the opportunity to throw out in-your-face clues to the werewolf’s identity, all of which are meant to throw you off track. Aside from the quick cuts to close-up shots of characters looking suspicious whenever the werewolf is mentioned, the film uses none-too-subtle dialogue like “I could eat you up” that is so brazenly obvious it actually comes off as kind of desperate. By the time they have Seyfried recite the classic “what big [blank] you have” lines, you’ll be clutching your sides, unable to breath from hysterical fits of laughter.

Despite all that, one can’t help but feel bad for Gary Oldman, who is forced to recite some of the stupidest lines of his career. With such an impressive filmography, he deserves better, though you do get the feeling that he’s enjoying hamming it up onscreen, which makes his scenes a little easier to watch than the rest of the film. In a way, they work similar to the “ugly girl” effect. When they’re surrounded by garbage, they look pretty good in comparison.

Red Riding Hood receives 1/5