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Face-Off: Evil Dead 2013 vs. Don't Breathe

This weekend sees the release of director Fede Alvarez's third film THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB, which is set in the world of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and is his biggest movie yet. While we wait to see how Alvarez handled an action-packed adventure about a mission to keep nuclear codes from falling into the wrong hands, let's look back at his previous two movies, both of which were about actress Jane Levy dealing with horrific circumstances in one location. In Alvarez's 2013 remake of EVIL DEAD (GET UNRATED BLU RAY HERE), he pit Levy against demonic forces, and three years later he trapped her in a house with a homicidal blind man for DON'T BREATHE (GET BLU RAY HERE). They're both great movies as far as I'm concerned, but how will they fare when put up against each other?

SET-UP

The set-up of a group of young friends going off to a cabin in the woods for some fun times and running into something terrible there might be the most overused cliché in the horror genre at this point, so when tasked with having to put more young friends in the woods to deal with the demonic forces of the EVIL DEAD franchise, Fede Alvarez and his co-writer Rodo Sayagues wisely chose to give the characters a deeper purpose for isolating themselves in the woods. David, Eric, Olivia, and Natalie have gathered together at a cabin in the woods to oversee as David's sister Mia tries to kick her drug habit cold turkey. It's just bad luck that some freaky stuff involving an ancient book of evil incantations has been going on in the cabin cellar since the last time David and Mia were there, and it's Eric's ill-advised curiosity that sets the demonic forces loose on a group that was already having a tough time to begin with.

Fede Alvarez and his co-writer Rodo Sayagues had another monumental task on this one, challenging themselves to find a way to get audiences to side with three thieves who decide to break into the home of a man who was blinded in the Gulf War so they can steal the $300,000 settlement he got when his daughter was killed in a car accident. It mostly works, not only because the Blind Man turns out to be so incredibly unpleasant, but because one of the thieves is given an understandable motivation. The thief called Money is just a criminal. Alex feels obliged to do it because he has a crush on his accomplice Rocky. But Rocky, she needs the money so she can leave their bad neighborhood in Detroit and the home she shares with her trashy, alcoholic mom (and mom's Nazi boyfriend). She has plans to get her little sister out of this soul-crushing situation and take her to a new, better life in California. We want her to achieve that goal, even if she's going about it in the wrong way.

LOCATION

The cabin in the woods was a beloved vacation spot for David and Mia's family before disease and drugs tore their world apart. Within the film it's tough to see why anyone would enjoy staying there, because the place looks like something out of a nightmare from the moment it first appears on screen. Surrounded by dense forest, this crumbling and filthy place really feels entirely separate from the rest of the world. If something bad happens here, you can't expect to receive help of any kind.

Hit hard by financial issues, Detroit has lost a substantial portion of its population over recent decades, and there are thousands of abandoned homes there. The Blind Man's house sits in a largely abandoned neighborhood; there are houses all around it, but nobody's home. That puts an interesting twist on the "isolated house" setting - when the characters become trapped inside the Blind Man's house they are far from help while still in the middle of a large city. 

JANE LEVY

Jane Levy immediately became very popular with horror fans upon the release of this film, and I was among the fans who were blown away by her performance as Mia. Alvarez put a lot on her shoulders. Over the course of the film, she goes from playing sad dramatic scenes as a troubled young woman nursing a lot of pain over recent family tragedy to losing her mind from drug withdrawals, being intensely afraid of supernatural forces, becoming possessed by a demon for a while, and ultimately turning into an ass-kicking, chainsaw-wielding horror heroine. It was a hell of an arc that Levy got to play, and she did a great job with the material she was given.

A lot was put on Jane Levy's shoulders again in this film, although most of the heavy lifting comes up front. For most of the movie she just has to run around inside a house and act really scared. In the first 20 minutes, though, she's the one responsible for making sure we understand and feel sympathy for Rocky, so we won't judge her too harshly for going along with the plan to rob the Blind Man. If we hated Rocky, as we normally would expect to hate a character for doing what she does, the movie as a whole would be pointless. The story of an unlikeable guy attacking unlikeable people. Thanks to Levy, we root for Rocky to get back to her sister.

ATMOSPHERE

While the sequels and TV show took the franchise in an increasingly comedic direction, Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD was a straightforward horror film, and it happens to be the movie that has scared me more than any other. So if you're going to reboot it, you have to go hard trying to make a new version an "experiences in grueling horror", and that's what Alvarez did. Although I don't like his take on the Deadites, as they seem very tame compared to the original's, the movie around those demon-possessed characters tries to be as dark, uncomfortable, and frequently as disgusting, as possible. This EVIL DEAD doesn't work as well for me as the first one did, nothing really could, but it was an admirable attempt to make the concept scary again.

DON'T BREATHE is a film permeated with dread. We know the characters are doing the wrong thing and are going to cause horrible things to happen to them, but how horrible are those things going to be? Which of them is going to be hurt, and how badly? The majority of the running time is taken up by an extended game of cat and mouse, with the Blind Man stalking the thieves throughout his dark house, relentlessly pursuing them, aiming to murder them. He can't call the police to his house because he's a disgusting creep who has a girl held captive in his basement, so Rocky and her cohorts appear to be screwed. As they try to escape from the Blind Man, this proves to be a thrilling, suspenseful film, and it made me legitimately concerned for the characters.

VIOLENCE

The most effective way to deal with the demonically possessed in this franchise is the act of bodily dismemberment, so you know people are going to get messed up. Alvarez destroys his characters in this movie. Brains are bashed out, there's hacking and slashing, beatings with a crowbar, Eric gets stabbed in the face multiple times with a syringe, arms are cut and torn off, a tongue gets split, nails are shot through flesh, a girl is set on fire and shot in the face. And of course, it all builds up to some chainsaw fu. The violence in this film is brutal and relentless.

There may not be demonic forces involved in this story to prolong the torment of the characters, but when violence flares up in DON'T BREATHE Alvarez continues to show a penchant for showing people getting messed up. A person getting shot through the head presented in a slow motion close-up, complete with blood splatter and air blowing out their cheeks. A likeable guy takes a beating in a physical confrontation. Rocky gets smashed and bashed around and threatened with a turkey baster. This movie gets brutal, but it's nowhere near the level of EVIL DEAD. 

EVIL DEAD 2013

DON'T BREATHE puts up a strong fight, but in the end EVIL DEAD comes out the winner because I feel it gives the viewer more substance to dig into. DON'T BREATHE is a great thriller, but for the most part it's just about the visual of people getting stalked and chased around a house. EVIL DEAD has more character work, a creepier setting, and a lot more cringe-inducing violence. Also, when it comes down to it, I prefer the Deadites (even Alvarez's less interesting, zombie-like Deadites) as a threat over the irritating Blind Man.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or would you give DON'T BREATHE the victory? Share your thoughts on these films in the comments section below. If you have any suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can send them to me at [email protected].

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