The Evil Dead

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

06/05/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Another Marvel, another Multiverse – and am I the only one who’s growing a little weary of this device? It worked wonders in the Spider-Man franchise, but can it do the same for my other old go-to comic favourite, Doctor Strange? Well possibly, but I have to admit the main thing that draws me to this is the presence of Sam Raimi in the director’s chair.

Raimi has released some great movies over the years: The Evil Dead and its super-charged sequels, as well as A Simple Plan and Drag Me to Hell – but it’s a while since he’s had a chance to strut his cinematic stuff. While he’s always been a director who dances to his own tune, can he successfully apply those considerable talents to Marvel’s famously constricting template?

The answer is, ‘sort of.’

DSITMOM starts, appropriately enough with a dream sequence, where Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) witnesses a twisted, evil version of himself attacking a teenage girl. But is it a dream? When, shortly afterwards, Strange encounters the girl in real life, she turns out to be America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel across the multiverse with ease, though (rather conveniently) she doesn’t know how she does it. Or, for that matter, why. Nor can she explain why she’s being pursued by a giant one-eyed octopus. But hey, these things can happen, right?

Sensing that she’s in danger (no shit, Sherlock), Strange seeks help from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), only to discover that she’s not going to be any help at all. Demented by the recent death of her partner and terrified she might lose the two children she loves so much (the ones who don’t actually exist), Wanda decides to steal America’s power for her own wicked ends, an action that will cause the girl’s death. (Incidentally, for someone who’s supposed to be a genius, Strange seems to be very adept at putting his foot in things. He’s the one who messed everything up in No Way Home – and now this.)

I’m not going to relate any more of the plot because, frankly, it’s as mad as a box of frogs (I suppose the title should have warned me), but the more important question is, can this nonsense hold together as a movie, and the answer is ‘just about.’ DSITMOM is essentially a series of frantic action set-pieces, loosely strung together. Though they are occasionally eye-popping and sometimes make me feel that I’ve inadvertently dropped a tab of acid, they never really gel into a convincing story arc.

Different versions of popular Marvel characters keep popping out of the woodwork and in many cases are actually killed, but because we know they’re not the real McCoy, there’s no real sense of threat here. Cumberbatch gets to portray several different Stephens, which was probably more fun for him than it proves to be for an audience. The parts that work best for me are the Sam Raimi moments, the few scenes where he’s allowed to employ the tropes of low budget horror – and of course there’s the inevitable cameo from Bruce Campbell, which is always welcome. But too often Raimi’s singular vision is swamped in the sturm und drang of state-of-the-art special effects.

Elsewhere, actors of the the calibre of Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Patrick Stewart are called upon to utter some truly naff dialogue, courtesy of screenwriter Michael Waldron.

The usual post-credits sequence suggests that Strange will be even stranger in the next instalment, if and when it happens. The enthusiastic applause from the mainly teenage audience at the end of this screening suggests that I may well be in the minority here.

Doctor Strange (and possibly Mr Raimi) will be back. Watch this space.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Wither

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28/10/14

Question; what would the Evil Dead look like if filmed by Swedes? Answer: Wither. But you have to imagine the Evil Dead completely stripped of wit, logic and storyline. (Not that the original had an awful lot of the latter, but Wither makes it look like the complete works of Shakespeare by comparison.) The film’s premise will be familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a horror movie. An assorted bunch of teenagers set out to spend the weekend in an abandoned house in the woods (as you do). They are led by squeaky-clean young couple Albin (Patrick Almkvist) and Ida (Lisa Henni) who spend a lot of time snogging, even in the midst of a raging bloodbath. They’re so annoying you start to hope that something bad will happen to them soon, but annoyingly they last longer than most of their companions.

Everyone settles in to the weekend vacation spot. Luckily, Albin’s Dad is an electrician and has arranged for a supply of juice to be sent to the house (some accomplishment considering he never actually visits the place.) Unlike virtuous Albin and Ida, the other kids, being Swedish, are even more obsessed with copping off with one another, than their American cousins. Within minutes of arrival, people are energetically humping, something that they will pay dearly for, later on.

Now, I know that in these films you are required to stretch your credibility a bit, but these kids keep doing things that nobody in their right mind would EVER do. Repeatedly. Hmm, a trapdoor leading down into a dark cellar? Think I’ll go and investigate. Oh, my friends are turning into monsters all around me, should I run away? Hmm, no it’s raining, I don’t want to get wet. Oh, my companion has turned into a monster and I’ve had to kill her. I’d better spend a very long time digging a grave for her. OK, now I’ve phoned for the police and they’ve told me to meet them out by our cars. But… it’s still raining, so let’s stay in the cabin. Sheesh! (The Swedish police, by the way, should probably sue the film makers for slurring their reputation. Though summoned by phone, quite early in the proceedings and informed that people are being killed, they fail to show up at any point.)

There are some decent special makeup effects here (the movie earns its 18 certificate) but directors, Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund are rather too fond of the depiction of women being mercilessly beaten by men, for comfort. I know people are turning into demons, but it never seems to happen the other way around and some of these scenes are prolonged and feel unpleasantly prurient. Ultimately, Wither is just a thinly veiled excuse to unleash a string of decapitations, amputations and beatings. Most of the budget must have gone on Kensington (or should that be Karlstad?) Gore, with which the weekend retreat is soon liberally redecorated. It’s pretty poor stuff, only to be approached with extreme caution.

1 star

Philip Caveney