Who doesn’t love The Evil Dead? It’s the cult classic that keeps on giving. It’s certainly been referenced in many films since its release, but it’s also really a wonder why it hasn’t spawned as many imitators as you’d think. Well, in the press release for writer/director Alexander Babaev’s Bornless Ones, it makes no attempt to hide Babaev’s inspiration. “The Evil Dead return in Bornless Ones“, and “In the tradition of The Evil Dead…”. One wonders if Raimi is (or should be) getting some kickbacks for this. I’m never a fan of indie films pulling this sort of stunt, since to me it’s an indication of a mediocre film hiding behind its marketing that will never live up to its potential. But okay, I’ll bite.
After the loss of their mother (Gwen Holloway) in an accident, Emily (Margaret Judson) is left as the sole caregiver of her cerebral palsy-afflicted brother, Zach (Michael Johnston). In order to be closer to her brother while he’s at a longterm care facility, Emily purchases a countryside cabin. Emily and Zach, together with Emily’s boyfriend, Jesse (Devin Goodsell), and Emily’s friends, Woodrow (Mark Furze) and Michelle (Bobby T), the group heads to the cabin to check it out before the move. Unbeknownst to the group, the cabin’s previous owner, a woman named Dolores (Lana Titov), was doing some treatment of her own with her dying daughter that involved summoning demons capable of healing. Things ended badly, and the demons are still kicking around the cabin.
In spite of the obvious, there was effort to set Bornless Ones apart from its inspiration. One of the more interesting ideas involves the demons themselves only being able to possess the injured. So, in order for the demons to possess others, they must coerce others to harm themselves, or (the fun part) cause injury. This leads to the film’s big fun involving the gory goods. Bravo for using some awesomely executed practical effects that are downright nasty to see. Who doesn’t love knitting needles in the eye? Or a firepoker through the jaw? Heck, when a possessed character has their legs broken, how about drilling in some splints? Yes, there’s a bit of CGI, but for the most part, the blood is real, the makeup is real, and the way things are pulled off is just a joy to see. Tying it all together is the overall presentation. The lighting creates some tense and spooky atmosphere, coupled with the set design and music. It definitely feels far more polished than your typical indie film, and a very different style than The Evil Dead.
Another plus is the acting, which is surprising given the overall inexperience of the cast. Margaret Judson (of “The Newsroom” fame) hits a few bumps in some of the earlier scenes, but overall proves to be quite capable of carrying a film on her own. Her chemistry with Devin Goodsell is spot-on. Goodsell also turns in a great performance as Jesse. The emotion and interaction between Emily and Jesse feels genuine and realistic, as does the interactions between Jesse and Zach. Michael Johnston’s role does have a bit of physicality it with regards to being afflicted with cerebral palsy, but Johnston also does show off an effective mean streak when possessed. Likewise, Bobby T also does well when possessed, but is also realistic otherwise. Despite being relegated to the clich&eactue; asshole role (with a name like Woodrow, it’s a no-brainer), Mark Furze shines in the role. He’s not a constant one-note asshole as you’d expect, but is thankfully rounded out. Even bit parts are well executed. David Banks plays the smarmy retailer Richard Alonzo Jr III with gusto, and Greg Travis does a great drunk gas station attendant.
In spite of all the impressive aspects of Bornless Ones and attempts to differentiate the film, the biggest drawback is that it can’t escape being a little too close to The Evil Dead. I give Babaev and the marketing team credit for embracing that, but it’s no big secret that you’ve seen this all before. The initial premise, the partying scene, the basement full of weird stuff, the dumb move to unleash the demons, the foul-mouthed possessed that mess with our protagonists, the gore. All of that we’ve seen with Sam Raimi. As a minor nitpick, when used, the CGI is pretty obvious, but it’s not that obtrusive to take you out of the film.
While I initially was afraid that Bornless Ones was another indie film that was using a far more successful and better-made film like The Evil Dead to grab some quick attention to mask its mediocrity, thankfully I was wrong. Babaev shows skill behind the camera, and the cast was gung-ho to pull off an enjoyable romp. Yes, the film still apes The Evil Dead quite a lot, in spite of a few tweaks to the formula. However, the attempts to make it stand on its own (including some neat practical gore effects) do lessen the blow. Give it a shot when it hits theatres for a limited run. You’ve seen it done before, but having it done well does count for something.
Bornless Ones arrives in theatres and on VOD February 10th.