California Literary Review

SXSW Film Festival Day 1: Evil Dead‘s a Winner

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March 9th, 2013 at 9:04 am

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Evil Dead

Evil Dead
Photo courtesy of TriStar


Thumbs Down ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’
Thumbs Up ‘Evil Dead’

There is an undeniable and indescribable vibe that permeates Austin, Texas once a year. In a town already known for its laid back approach to life and a desire to keep the city “weird” — as a way of distinguishing it from the rest of Texas — Austin becomes a metropolis for creative types and fans of film and music when South By Soutwest (SXSW) explodes every Spring.

Celebrating its 20th year as a part of the larger SXSW Conference & Festivals (which include music, interactive and comedy), the film component has always been a launchpad for films outside the mainstream where filmmakers can flex their creative abilities. In recent years, the film conference has evolved into a venue for large Hollywood fare to try to cash in on the hip crowds that attend year after year.

This is my fourth year as a SXSW attendee and every time I board the plane to Austin I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve who has already found his Christmas presents and knows just how awesome the next morning will be. Each year the programmers of SXSW Film organize a program that includes thought-provoking documentaries and engaging narrative features from both veteran and first-time filmmakers. This year’s lineup is one of the best in recent years, both in terms of the films that are being shown and the filmmaker and performer panels that will take place.

As with last year, the Opening Night film was not a movie that typified the SXSW brand of filmmaking. On the contrary, it was a demonstration of how important an event SXSW is in the world of cinema. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (like 21 Jump Street in 2012) is about as “Hollywood” as a movie can get, but the SXSW fans still lined up hours in advance to see the new comedy starring Steve Carell and Jim Carrey. Though the film had barely any genuinely comedic moments, it was an impressive gem for the festival in terms of solidfying its legitimacy. Stars Carell, Carrey and Olivia Wilde all made red carpet appearances and participated in a Q&A after the film.

I will have a full review of the film after the festival, but for now I’ll just say that Burt Wonderstone is a stale and unfunny borefest that seems to have no sense of the comedy landscape in 2013. The jokes and gags feel like they were pulled out of 1998 and Carell and Carrey both looked bored to death as Las Vegas magicians who are competing to be the best in the world. If it hadn’t been for Olivia Wilde, I may not have stayed through the entire 86 minute run time.

The real treat of the night was director Fede Alvarez’ remake of the classic B horror movie Evil Dead. Sam Raimi’s 1981 student movie is a demonstration of how a truly gifted filmmaker can tell the story he or she wants despite any financial constraints. The original is not only impressively accomplished, but also effectively scary (if you ignore the horrible makeup). When it was announced someone would dare remake a beloved movie such as Evil Dead, fans were rightfully skeptical. I can tell you now, though, that the new film not only honors the original, it is also the most disturbing and terrifying film I think I’ve ever seen.

Five friends are terrorized by an ancient demon who is released upon them. It would be incredibly boring if it weren’t for Alvarez and his uncanny ability to scare the audience over and over again without becoming monotonous. The blood and gore is almost unwatchable, but because of how well done it is, you can’t look away. I’ll have a full review of Evil Dead as well because I don’t foresee the images leaving my mind any time soon.

To give you a preview of Day 2, I’m hoping to catch Joss Whedon’s ultra-low budget adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing which is followed by a panel discussion with Whedon and his cast. That’s right! I also plan to see the British comedy I Give It a Year and a Q&A with director Danny Boyle.

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