Review: 'Evil Dead' Toughens Up an Already Bloody Horror Classic
by Jeremy Kirk
April 5, 2013
A remake to Sam Raimi's 1981 horror classic, The Evil Dead, is not just remaking the film that launched the director's career. It's following two sequels, video games, comic books, and the general icon status of the series' protagonist, Bruce Campbell as Ash, housewares. It's also coming up behind a slew of ripoffs, and let's not forget Cabin in the Woods just yet. But Evil Dead, the remake backed by Raimi's Ghost House Pictures, is more than ready to live up to the challenge, armed with a mean spirit, relentless intensity, and buckets of both practical and digital gore. It's enough to make a Candarian demon daddy proud. Read on!
Right from the bat, the remake takes you out of the element of watching ditzy teenagers trotting off to a cabin in the dark woods with thoughts of partying on their minds. The five characters in Evil Dead, aren't here to party. They're there to help Mia (Jane Levy), their friend, get off drugs cold turkey. This sets up a rather organic "We can't let her leave" dynamic between the characters long before Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) reads from an ancient book the group found in the cellar and well before Mia has a rather unpleasant encounter with the evil presence Eric's action has resurrected in the woods.
Stop right there on that word "unpleasant", because it's one you'll be going back to time and time again as you watch Evil Dead. The film is written and directed by newcomer Fede Alvarez, whose short "Panic Attack!" blew viewers' minds. He inked a deal with Ghost House based on that short, and here he is with his version of Raimi's classic. Rather than follow in the hammy undertakings Raimi's series took on, Alvarez makes watching the Evil Dead story play out something brutal, grimy, the kind of movie that makes you want to take a boiling hot shower afterwards.
The director injects every frame with enough grime and muck to fill ten swamps, the better to fling his actors and actresses around in to make them as physically dirty as the story is. That's to say nothing of the hardcore gore he trots out at a moment's whim, keeping the pace of the film nonstop and at peak suspense levels throughout. After Mia's initial encounter and subsequent infection, Alvarez moves the story along quickly, piecing together a rollercoaster ride of breaking bones and ripped flesh from all the major moments fans of Raimi's original know and love. The production design here is creative, edgy, and that piece of barbed wire wrapped around this version of the Book of the Dead is a nice metaphor for the remake itself. The whole thing feels like it's been wrapped in barbed wire.
Evil Dead doesn't pander to the ocean of devoted fans of the original (Until the film's final post-credit shot, which can absolutely be skipped). Instead, it takes familiar plot beats, character traits, and even rules about the Candarian demons, Book of the Dead, and the sickness that's spreading to the group and plays them up, playfully hints at them, or completely turns them on their ear. It's this latter way Alvarez uses familiarity of the franchise against the audience that makes this Evil Dead screenplay all the more intriguing.
The key element to this is in Evil Dead's protagonist, something that's kept very deliberately hidden from the viewer until very near the end. Throughout the film, there are moments that each of these five character have, little hints of leadership values or even call-backs to Ash, that makes you think they could end up being the hero at the end of the day. Hell, knowing how mean Evil Dead has been leading up to the end, you know it's perfectly within Alvarez's realm of audacity to give us the darkest ending possible.
Just having all of these potential cards on the table, knowing that the film maker could flip any of them over, makes the experience of watching Evil Dead a joy, one that puts you on a very uncomfortable edge of your seat, but joy nonetheless. In that sense, its success as a horror film is undeniable, even if it leans more towards making its audience squirm rather than sending real scares down its collective spine.
The tension wouldn't be nearly as effective were it not for the fine actors Alvarez has selected as his group of pathetically oblivious friends. Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore all do suitable jobs in their respective roles, Blackmore's Natalie having only one apparent purpose to fetch the other characters items from a different room. Pucci really wins the audience over as the comic relief. Reluctant comic relief, but it makes us laugh.
It's Levy, though, that breaks out and really shows us something. To say her body goes through physical transformations is an understatement, but the actress works through the loads of makeup and prosthetics and delivers a flawlessly coherent performance. It's always undeniably her, and the more she makes you laugh from nerves or jolt in your seat, the better her talents reveal themselves.
After a while, the blood and guts of Evil Dead wear thin, but that's only when the fine acting from Levy and the odd turns Alvarez's screenplay takes in the third act come out and really do their work. In many ways, the Evil Dead remake strays from the pack, delivering harder shots of violence than anything Raimi ever came up with. He had no problem bringing the gore. He just never made it hurt like this.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10