As I sat in a theater and watched the new take on Evil Dead, I found myself flashing back to last year’s Cabin in the Woods. I was very fond of that film, and it’s amazing how directly it nailed the formula for this kind of movie. There are moments in Evil Dead where I almost laughed because of how the move was following each note to a tee. It even has the “I probably shouldn’t read this evil text” moment. That isn’t to say there isn’t stuff to like in this movie, because it has lots of cool things going for it.
Fede Alvarez takes the reigns from Sam Raimi and crafts a brutal bloody film with a budget the original film could only dream of. The plot remains the same, with some tweaks. A group of friends join Mia (Jane Levy) and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) as Mia tries to detox from heroin. They chose to do this at a family cabin in the woods. Years have turned the cabin to rot, and while exploring, they find dead animals in the cellar along with a book bound in flesh. Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) reads from the book and unleashes a demonic presence that heads straight for Mia.
From there, hell is unleashed upon each of the character in various ways, each pertaining to a passage in the evil book. The survivors realize they only way to stop it may be to destroy Mia and the demon attached to her.
I have to hand it to Alvarez, he nails the tone and look of the film. One of the best things the original Evil Dead had going for it was an intensely creepy story. It is often remembered as funny or campy, but that’s because of Evil Dead 2. This film captures that creepy atmosphere of demons tear-assing through the human flesh of people who chose the wrong cabin to stay at. There are moments of this film that truly evoke the feeling that original did, and it never feels false. It’s totally earned.
The script is another matter. They work hard to set up the conceit that this is a detox session for Mia, and then pretty swiftly abandon that once things start to get evil and dead. The concept of demon possession as a metaphor for drug addiction is such a strong one it’s really a shame they didn’t play more with it. I will say that the demon presence in the film is far more vicious than I remember them being in the original, and this is evident in when a possessed Mia spouts curses that recall moments from The Exorcist.
I also feel that the characters who aren’t Mia and her brother get the royal shaft when it comes to development. Lou Taylor Pucci’s only reason for being is to be the guy who makes the mistake of reading the book, and the other characters fee like fodder to be ripped and shredded. What sets most good horror films apart is a feeling of empathy for the characters and their horrible situation, but here, I felt no connection to anyone except Mia and her brother, and even that felt superficial and forced. I think another draft or two of the script could have made this film jump from “extremely entertaining” to “instant classic.”
I also have a bit of a bone to pick with the adaptation of the original. Now I don’t mind when remakes change things around, but one of the more chilling aspects of the original film was the idea of the professor who had been studying the book and the recordings he left behind. Here that plot is ditched in favor of a flashback at the beginning of the film with a similar character, but after the main title appears, he’s never mentioned again, nor do his tapes make an appearance. Maybe this is nitpicking, but the idea of the tapes being what recalled the demons rather than a reading might have taken the silliness off Pucci’s character ignoring the big bold warning to not do what he is about to do.
People have been talking about the use of effects in this movie, specifically the lack of CGI gore, and it really is a wonder to behold as the filmmakers unleash literal torrents of blood upon the poor souls in the cabin. Some of the more gruesome scenes were almost a bit too intense for me, and I have a strong stomach, so kudos to them on managing to make the film as gory as they possibly could with an R rating. One scene with a girl and a shard of mirror is particular effective, and the talents of the makeup and practical effects crew are showcased incredibly well.
Ultimately, Evil Dead is a good horror film that stands proudly aside the other films in the franchise. Sure it stumbles a bit in plotting and character development, but makes up for it with gore-y gusto.
I give it three severed hands out of five.