Evil Dead producers Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell made it clear to the media leading up to the remake of their cult horror movie classic that Evil Dead would be a new vision of horror for a new generation. To bring this new vision to life, they turned to Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez, who wasn’t even 3-years-old when the original The Evil Dead premiered in Detroit. As it turned out, new blood (pun intended) did this franchise very good.
As a diehard fan of the original, I was at first resistant to the idea of a remake. Even when they’re good, it’s difficult to judge remakes on their own merits. I’ll do my best to refrain from comparing Alvarez’s film to Raimi’s classic here, but I fear that will be inevitable. Please, bear with me.
The story is simple. A group of young people ventures to a desolate cabin, a la the 1981 film, where they find a mysterious book and unwittingly unleash a night of unholy terror upon themselves. This time around, though, our protagonists’ decision to isolate themselves in Bumfuck, Nowhere, is not without purpose. Mia (Jane Levy) has been struggling with heroin addiction and detoxing from drugs, and her friends, led by her largely absentee brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), sequester themselves in the remote locale to stand by her as she tries to kick the habit cold turkey.
The cabin used to be Mia and David’s family’s retreat but fell into disrepair over the years from lack of use. But in the time the siblings have been away, others have used the dwelling for their own nefarious ends, and the woods surrounding the cabin have become infested with ancient demons. Things go from creepy to absolutely terrifying when Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) goes poking around in an ancient tome that he has no business messing around with.
Evil Dead is exactly six minutes longer in runtime than its predecessor, but seems to get less things accomplished plot-wise. Alvarez, who also co-wrote the screenplay spends more time on characterization than delving into the mythos behind the evil that lurks in the woods. The film is still tight because he sticks by his choice, but feels emptier than the original somehow without a clear understanding of what’s going on.
I promised that I wouldn’t compare it to The Evil Dead, and I’m sorry. But I swear I’ll leave it at that. While Evil Dead clearly takes cues from the original, it really is its own monster—a savage, unrelenting and frightening monster the likes of which has been lacking from horror movies for the past God knows how many years. In some respects, it is Evil Dead for a generation of horror fans weaned on the flaccid torture porn of the Saw and Hostel franchises. Horrible things happen to these characters—especially Eric, who becomes sort of a human pincushion by film’s end. Nails are driven through bones, people chop off their own arms…it’s nasty, gnarly stuff, free of the campy grotesqueness of the original (I swear I’ll stop now).
That being said, this is as visceral a film experience as you’re likely to have this year (and probably next year for that matter). Alvarez manages to capture the extreme gore and violence with such an artful eye it’s almost beautiful. Pale, muted colors paint a grim and foreboding picture of the forest surrounding the cabin, and wonderfully crafted creature makeup creates nightmarish demons that still appear to have a human soul.
For horror fans, this is a must-see in the theater. It’ll make you think back to a time when horror movies made you squeamish and cackle with terror, and not just because they pulled that bullshit you-think-it’s-the-psycho-killer-but-it’s-actually-a-cat sort of way. You’ll jump because there’s a flesh-hungry demon lurking behind the bathtub shredding off its own face with a shard of broken glass. Tread carefully into those woods, my friends, and don’t go alone.