Filminism is a bi-weekly column dedicated to representations of women in cinema. It runs every other Friday.
Editor's note: I haven't seen the new "Evil Dead," but I asked Jenni to watch it for this week's installment of Filminism because troubled responses from the film's SXSW premiere suggested that it would be a rich source of material for a column about the representation of women in cinema. When Jenni emailed me that she had walked out of the movie and that we would have to think of another topic for this post, I was less than thrilled. If there's one thing I hate, it's thinking. However, I'm of the mind that something constructive can be teased from even the most unpleasant experiences, and so I gently demanded that she write about her experience with "Evil Dead" anyway. After reading this post, I'm so glad she walked out and used her time towards a more positive end. Enjoy - D
My assignment for this installment of Filminism was to write about the new "Evil Dead."
I was psyched. I didn't enjoy the original "Evil Dead" that much, but I'm a fan of "Evil Dead 2" and "Army of Darkness." Hell, I went to "Evil Dead" off Broadway for my 30th birthday (sadly, my friend and I were just outside of the splatter zone). I have a Polaroid of me with Ash and his groovy chainsaw, dammit. I've paid professionals large amounts of money to stick needles in me! I'm tough, okay?!
If I sound defensive, it's because I left my screening of "Evil Dead" on Tuesday night after about 40 minutes. Then I walked home two miles to try and shake it off. I was already a bit stressed out for completely unrelated reasons by the time I arrived, but I was ready to have a good time at a movie full of horror fans, especially sitting next to a good friend and comrade Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko). Sorry I left you, Kristy.
"Evil Dead" does not screw around. A possessed girl is set on fire by her own father while a witch and assorted extras from "The Hills Have Eyes" look on, all before the opening credits. Our heroine Mia (Jane Levy) and her brother are with some friends in their family's cabin in the woods so she can kick heroin once and for all, which means everyone is like, "It's cool that Mia just tried to boil herself alive in the shower 'cause withdrawing is really hard, man." Or "I guess she told us we were all going to die tonight because junkies will say or do anything when they're kicking." Except, no. She's raped by a tree — I knew that was coming because it was in the original, but this time the demon that possesses the tree is a girl so it's a cool twist or something — and projectile vomits such an impressive amount of blood onto her friend’s face that I actually giggled out loud. And then things got dark.
Naturally, their putzy friend Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) has been reading the skin-bound book they found in the basement full of tortured and rotting dead cats without noticing that each illustration is being recreated and/or relived by Mia. Olivia (Jessica Lucas) goes to wash all the blood barf off her face and get some serious sedatives for Mia when she catches her reflection in the mirror, and it's looking bad. Then we get a glimpse of the latest page in the book, and it's illustrated with a woman ripping off her own jaw, and I was like, "Oh, hell no." The mirror breaks, and Olivia freezes and then pees on the floor.
It was at this point that the vocal horror fans who were even more psyched to see "Evil Dead" started getting grossed out, and when things started to get blurry for me (perhaps because I was holding my notebook in front of my eyes). I could still hear the movie, and the sounds of Olivia mutilating her face were horrific. I'm not sure if what I was picturing was as bad as what was happening onscreen, but it sounded like she was wrenching her jaw entirely off of her face. Kudos on the sound design, because it was gross. "I've gotta go, sorry," I whispered to Kristy, and hauled my ass out of the theater and all the way home.
Is there anything more humbling for someone in my line of work than leaving a horror movie because it was too gnarly? Other than the time I sobbed so loudly during "The Fall" that another writer kindly asked me if I was okay afterwards, I mean. As for the people that responded to me on Twitter that this made them want to see it more, I say go for it. Enjoy. Mazel tov. Seriously, have fun. I didn't want to leave. First, I like seeing movies I enjoy more than ones that make me want to die inside, and second, it hinder me from doing my job. Maybe most importantly, events like this make me reconsider how I see myself.
The part of me that feels like I should muscle through as much as I can isn't necessarily the same as the one that has something to prove to all the jagoffs who leave comments on my and my female friends' reviews of action movies telling us to go make sandwiches, but they're not unrelated. It's sort of like proving my bona fides. Yeah, I watched "Salo" on VHS from Kim's Video. I was eating gummy worms the whole time! What about you, man?! It's a combination of one-upmanship, professional insecurity and a touch of the Cool Girl rant in Gillian Flynn's novel "Gone Girl."
It's time for me to give up that way of thinking — as a film critic, as a professional, and as a woman in a predominantly male profession who often feels that I have a little extra to prove. That I have to be a little louder to get my questions answered in a roundtable interview full of my peers who are more than happy to talk right over me. That I have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Sylvester Stallone's catalogue so that when I'm assigned to review his latest movie, I can fend off the commenters. That I have to be ready at all times to show that I can be unwaveringly critical and unbiased instead of emotional, even though much of the time, movies are supposed to provoke a reaction. Hell, "Evil Dead" was supposed to provoke viewers to be super grossed out — it's a feather in the filmmakers' cap that I freaked out.
I feel like I've done and seen a fair amount of things that should inure me to horror movies. I've paid professionals generous sums of money to stick needles in me. I've witnessed some pretty serious body modification rituals in person. I've watched a fair amount of horror movies, and even occasionally fall down the rabbit hole into the seedier side of the Internet, the kind that used to be ruled by Rotten.com and its ilk. Over the years, though, I've noticed that I have to look away more often, and I'm not sure whether it's the movies that have changed or me. In the end, I'm not sure it really matters. Similarly, I no longer feel the need to see every single pile of feces that's coming out just to stay on top of things or show that I'm still in the mix.
It's time to face facts. I like being scared, like in "Sinister" or "The Orphanage," and I do enjoy grimy horror like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," but I just can't roll with this newer stuff. I could watch "Nekromantik" for gags and giggles when I was in high school, but I just can't any more.
See, here's the cool thing about getting older. You have less and less f*cks to give until one day, when you're about 90, you have none left at all. I don't need to push myself to sit through things that make me miserable to earn some cachet or prove how badass I am or even to show how calm, cool and collected I am as a critic.