Much has been said about the supposed quality of the new Evil Dead picture, a remake of Sam Raimi’s crafty, 1981 low-budget chiller and drive-in mainstay, about twenty-somethings whose weekend cabin retreat results in demonic mayhem.
Directed by first-time Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Martinez from a screenplay by himself, Diablo Cody and Rodo Sayagues, with credit to Sam Raimi, the new picture, an obvious homage to the original, gets the gore part right—the movie has blood and guts in the extreme—but populates the carnage with cardboard characters and trumped-up contrivances.
Whereas Raimi’s no-budget, 16mm classic had zero pretentions of anything but wild special effects and a whirligig camera, it also introduced a likable Bruce Campbell (who would reprise his tongue-in-cheek savior role Ash in the cult classic Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn and Army of Darkness) and some truly novel possession sequences. It was scary and gory by turns, ingenious and immediately recognizable as the work of a real auteur.
The new version is less successful, set in a near-replica cabin in the woods and giving us the usual too hip, cynical kids who stage a drug intervention upended by supernatural demons, taking a page from the original and blending elements of other pictures, including The Ring, with mixed results.
Mia (Jane Levy) is a drug addict going cold turkey with the assistance of brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), their befuddled buddy Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci in the film’s best turn) and nurse pal Olivia (Jessica Lucas). The set-up is pure tick-tock plotting en route to what we know is coming—the unleashing of the ancient evil spirits.
A botched escape finds Mia violated by the forest itself (a notorious scene in the original picture but here, less shocking) and stalked by the ghostly visage of a formerly possessed teen girl who was burned-at-the-stake. For whatever reason, this apparition is dropped from the film a third of the way only to resurface in the dénouement.
The quartet discover a stinking cadre of cats strung up and butchered in the cellar, where they also come upon the Book of the Dead, and of course, start reading its incantations aloud—specifically the ones that advise against doing so. Why not leave? As usual, the bridge is out.
Soon enough, hell is unleashed, the evil dead invade their bodies and the film goes terrifically over-the-top with inspired horror sequences, none of which, importantly, included any CGI, lengthening the shoot but adding heightened realism. And that’s basically it for Evil Dead.
It must be said that the horror sequences in Evil Dead are genuine fun, if you can stomach the gore. Two set pieces, involving a chainsaw that severs an arm (another nod to the original) and a nail gunning, are delightfully macabre. And the final confrontation, set in a pool of blood and mud, as the sky rains blood rather than water, is gorgeously photographed.
But ultimately the picture struggles to find its own identity, and doesn’t quite pull it off. We’re keenly aware it’s a nod to a better movie and its characters never come to life—they are generic and interchangeable and in the picture for one reason: to have their bodies invaded, mutilated and reanimated. Not that this wasn’t the case with Raimi’s picture, but the attempt here to flesh out the drama is half-hearted.
Evil Dead, as well directed as its horror sequence may be, doesn’t quite get there.