Director: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
In the realm of horror remakes, the idea of remaking Evil Dead certainly seemed like sacrilege to many. The original film is considered a horror classic that kick-started the careers of both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, and Evil Dead II certainly raised the bar in terms of blending horror with slapstick humor. And while Army of Darkness definitely played more towards the comedic, there’s no denying that the trilogy as a whole has stood the test of time.
Decades later, a new version of the film comes courtesy of Raimi and Campbell, serving as producers, while director Fede Alverez sits at the helm. More of a reinterpretation than a straightforward remake, this Evil Dead finds a group of twenty-somethings meeting at a secluded cabin in the deep woods, in the hopes of helping their friend Mia, played by Jane Levy, kick her crippling drug addiction. When one of them discovers the Book of the Dead, an ancient evil is unwittingly unleashed, possessing Mia and eventually spreading to the others.
Living up to the original Evil Dead is definitely a major hurdle for this new film to overcome. There is some degree of self-awareness when it comes to using such an overused horror setting as a cabin in the woods. Especially with the clever horror send-up, Cabin In The Woods, putting such films on notice. Still, Evil Dead does what it can to stray from the pack, giving the characters an understandable and noble purpose for this particular excursion. Eric, played by Lou Taylor Pucci, and Oliva, played by Jessica Lucas, are making another go at weening Mia off of heroin. This time around, Mia’s estranged brother David, played by Shiloh Fernandez, has decided to join the group, with his girlfriend Natalie, played by Elizabeth Blackmore, tagging along. If nothing else, we can at least give credit to the filmmakers for giving these characters a solid motivation beyond partying, fornication, and drug use. The first act is actually quite engaging, as we see Mia beginning to go through withdrawal. It puts a lot of focus on David, as he’s faced with some harsh truths regarding how he left things with his sister and their friends, not having seen them for some time.
If only the characters remained interesting once the possessions started. Not that the characters were all that developed in the original, but it would have been nice to see more interaction between the others besides Mia and David. We don’t care enough about them once the carnage commences, and the filmmakers are at a loss as to what to do with them. Whereas Mia is essentially patient zero in this situation, and prone to constant verbal and physical attacks, once other characters become “deadites”, they’re devoid of any spark or vibrant quality. They behave too much like your typical horror movie zombies, no longer speaking and shambling about as they attack those who remain.
In general, there’s very little effort made to truly make the film something that can stand on its own. Outside of the setup for getting these characters to the cabin, there isn’t enough to give the film its own identity. It drops a few nods to the original, and even some of the camera work is reminiscent of Raimi, but it all feels surprisingly hollow. The few original ideas the film does have are exhausted rather quickly.
Still, for those expecting an all-out gorefest, Evil Dead certainly doesn’t disappoint. The commitment to only using practical effects pays off in creating a slew of visceral, gut-wrenching moments throughout the film. From a brutal scene of tree rape harkening back to the original, to one character cutting their face open until their jawbone is exposed, and a handful of scenes of dismemberment, gore fans will definitely get their fill. Coupled with stellar cinematography, these effects are surprisingly realistic, and some of them even illicit a genuine reaction of “How did they do that?!”
Evil Dead is also aided by the strong performance of Jane Levy as Mia. She really is the standout of the cast, displaying a wide range of emotions and having the most satisfying arc of any other character in the film. Shiloh Fernandez is admirable as Mia’s brother David, and the film is almost as much about him as it is about her. He does a good job of playing the concerned brother, but there’s also a distant, passive aggressive quality to him as more information about his history with his sister and their friends is revealed. His relationship with Eric, played by Lou Taylor Pucci, is tenuous at best. As a character, Eric is clearly knowledgeable, even if his curiosity gets the better of him. His discovery of the Book of the Dead and his insistence on reading passages from it, despite explicit instructions in the book NOT TO READ IT, would have annoyed me more, had he not been saddled with lion’s share of physical abuse once the evil is set free among them. By comparison, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore unfortunately aren’t given nearly as much to work with.
While the film does sport some magnificent practical effects that give it a great old-school horror quality, and Jane Levy’s performance as Mia is definitely worth watching, Evil Dead still lacks its own charm and personality. It makes only the bare minimum of effort to differentiate itself from the original, and the references it makes to Raimi’s film aren’t used in any kind of inventive manner. Gore fans should enjoy it for that, if nothing else, but there isn’t much left here for the rest of us.