Call it a noble effort, or even a gushing cut above your typical Platinum Dunes fare, but the one thing few are likely to call director/co-screenwriter Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is, as the poster so modestly states it, “The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience.” Hyperbole aside, this flesh-rending retread simply doesn’t recapture the ferocious energy of the low-budget fright-fest that set Sam Raimi down the yellow brick road to Hollywood, and despite having its rotten, pus-pumping heart in the right place, it comes off more a loose collection of fairly effective gore sequences than the all-out assault on the senses that it was no doubt conceived to be.
Mia (Jane Levy) is a heroin addict whose most recent overdose was nearly her last. Recognizing that she won’t survive another, Mia’s longtime friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) take the troubled girl to her family’s old cabin in the woods to quit cold turkey. It isn’t their first attempt, but this time they’re hoping that with Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) around, she’ll have the support she needs to weather the coming storm. The moment David arrives at the cabin with his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), strange things start to happen; Mia complains about a foul smell that none of her friends can sense, and upon descending into the fruit cellar David and Eric discover what appears to be the scene of a dark ritual. Scattered amongst the animal corpses and mysterious artifacts is an old book that’s been sealed shut with heavy-duty plastic and barbed wire. Intrigued, Eric manages to cut the book free and makes a disturbing discovery -- the book has been bound in human flesh, and it comes with an incantation that will unleash a powerful force of evil. Ignoring the warnings not to speak or even hear the incantation, Eric reads the words aloud, sealing his own dark fate, as well as those of his closest friends. One by one they will be possessed until no soul has been left unclaimed. The lucky ones will die first, their souls condemned to suffer as their bodies are twisted into an obscene aberration of flesh. Will the last person standing have the courage to send these sadistic demons back to hell, even if it means killing their friends and loved ones in the worst way imaginable, or will the forces unleashed by this unholy book prove too powerful for any one mortal to defeat?
When rumors of an Evil Dead remake first began to circulate, fans feared the worst -- and really, who can blame them. The original film was one of those magical moments in movie history where the stars aligned. A driven pool of young filmmakers pulled together at precisely the right point in their respective careers, heralding the arrival of a remarkable talent behind the camera, and the birth of a true horror icon. How could any modern filmmaker possibly re-create that chemistry, much less find someone capable of taking a beating like Bruce Campbell? The short answer is, they don’t, but it’s certainly not for lack of effort. In putting a new spin on the familiar story, screenwriters Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues slyly inject some weighty drama into the set up that builds tension between the characters even before all hell breaks loose. It’s an interesting decision that prevents us from making direct comparisons to the original right off the bat, and that slightly confounds our expectations of exactly what’s to come.
Lamentably, it’s also just about the only wise deviation to be found in this gruesome yet misguided remake, because so eager are Alvarez and company to show off their much-touted practical effects that they carelessly break their own rules regarding how the demons can be defeated while falling back on silly movie cliches like shooting a gas can to create an explosion (despite having already set up a more logical solution). It’s this kind of lazy writing that prevents us from truly getting caught up in the moment. Meanwhile, the pacing of Alvarez and Sayagues’ screenplay is too stilted to build the kind of malevolent momentum that’s become a hallmark of the series, making laughable new additions like an improvised defibrillator downright cringe-worthy as we start to miss some of the sinister incidental elements (the tape recorder, the dagger) of the original that have been foolishly jettisoned here.
If, on the other hand, you purchased your ticket simply in hopes of seeing some CG-free gore, you’ll get what you came for in bloody spades. Because despite not quite having the chops to really make his first feature pop, Alvarez has a great sense for shooting practical effects. The result is a series of shocks that are likely to make even jaded gorehounds flinch, and novices cower in fear. He shows a flair for working with actors as well, coaxing a memorable performance from Levy as the terrified addict-turned-taunting demon, and Taylor Pucci as the friend who foolishly ignores the danger signs despite being the first one to recognize them (yeah, the logic here is a unique brand of screwy).
In recent interviews, Sam Raimi has been quoted as saying that one of the driving factors behind launching this remake was the curiosity of seeing how Evil Dead would be handled by a filmmaker with the budget and resources to pull off what he himself could not back in 1981. Now, thanks to Fede Alvarez, he finally has his answer -- a film that’s technically impressive and competently executed, yet almost entirely devoid of the passion, creativity, and innovation that made the original an undisputed horror classic. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan