Note: There might be minor spoilers here, but I am not going to do my usual review/recap. I strongly feel that everybody should go into this relatively unaware of what’s going to happen. Also, pay attention through the credits and stay all the way until the end.
Evil Dead is a better movie than The Evil Dead.
Yeah, yeah. I know some of you will think that’s ridiculous or might be outraged, but when I look objectively at the newest entry in the Evil Dead franchise that’s how I feel.
I love all three of those movies to varying degrees and have the tattoos to prove it. Raimi’s trilogy is a sacred piece of horror history and stands alone in terms of quality and watchability. The growth of everybody involved with the franchise is fascinating to watch over the course of the series. From the jarring cuts and continuity errors of The Evil Dead to the sweeping crane shots and clever forced perspective used in Army of Darkness to Bruce Campbell’s role as a leading man – it’s all amazing.
But today I’m just going to talk about the new movie and the original. Because in theory those are the two that relate most to one another. Evil Dead is, after all, a remake of The Evil Dead.
Except that no, it isn’t. But I’ll get to that.
As I’ve said before I am not averse to remakes. I don’t have that knee-jerk reaction about them that makes me think that all remakes are bad and lazy and Hollywood has run out of ideas and blah, blah, blah. That’s not to say that all of that isn’t true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that a remake (or reboot or relaunch or whatever) is worthless. I find it interesting when a new vision and new technology are used to refresh an old idea. And no remake or adaptation have ever had any effect whatsoever on the original work. If you hate the Texas Chainsaw remake (or the recent sequel, or any of the sequels for that matter) it has no bearing on the original. That one still exists and you can enjoy it on its own. If this new Evil Dead had been terrible I would have ignored it and continued to enjoy the ones I grew up with.
But again – this is not a remake. It might not even be a reboot. I very strongly suspect it is a sequel.
As much as I love The Evil Dead, it is kind of terrible. There are horrendous continuity errors, an utter lack of logic, and while the effects are creative and memorable; they are downright laughable at times. The actors are not actors and it shows. These are all things that I love about the movie, but they are also things that prevent it from being the grueling experience in terror that it should be to anybody over the age of ten.
Evil Dead, on the other hand, presents the same setting and situation with not only modern technology and much more in the way of means; but also in a much more cohesive way with an effective narrative device and an atmosphere that is conducive to actual terror. Now we have real characters with a story and motivations. As much as I might poo-poo dramatic motivations in some instances, they lend a real weight to the characters and events of the movie.
Mia is the main character and she is a junkie. Her brother and their friends have taken her out to the old family cabin on her second attempt to quit using. Her brother is absentee. He doesn’t know just how bad Mia’s habit is. He wasn’t there for her or their family when their mother died. But now he’s determined to be there for his sister.
Also along is the brother’s girlfriend, a nurse, and a dorky guy. These are sort of muted versions of the typical horror movie archetypes – Mia is the impure one, the dorky guy is just that, the girlfriend is the dumb girl, the brother is the jock, and the nurse is the proactive or smart one. These aren’t the exact archetypes, but close. But this isn’t a typical movie in that because of the group’s purpose at the cabin there’s none of the usual drug use and fooling around. Things are serious from the get-go, but not in an off-putting way. I was actually interested in what was going on with the characters. And it definitely helped to have that cabin as the setting. It’s a lot easier to deal with drama when you just know shit is going to get fucked up.
Things do not get as whacked-out crazy as they do in The Evil Dead, but in a way they are crazier. It is a much more realistic kind of demonic horror and yet still very much the manner of madness that happened in the original. Don’t expect oatmeal-spewing demons. Expect sights that are much more visceral and gruesome. The thing here is that there is actually a story and a method this time around. As events progress we get to see what is happening and where it is headed and it creates a different kind of suspense and terror. Also, most of the effects are practical and it shows. I can’t recall one scene or gag in the movie that took me out of the action.
The actors are all at the least solid, but the girl that plays Mia is fantastic. Her performance is my favorite in a very long time. I can’t comment on specific things without giving away critical and delightful plot points, but the range this actress has to display over the course of the movie is astonishing. And she fucking kills it.
Finally there’s the director – Fede Alvarez.
I think this is his first feature and that is truly remarkable. What Alvarez has done is just as amazing as what the actress that played Mia accomplished – the man created a tribute to a classic movie while simultaneously creating a new story and a new style. There are certain moments that are evocative of Sam Raimi’s easily recognizable style. Certain cuts or camera angles are clearly meant to honor Raimi’s frenetic style. But Alvarez is in no way aping Raimi; something that would have been not only easy but perfectly acceptable for this film. Instead, Alvarez trains us to enjoy a new style of presentation and way of looking at this old cabin. It is still intense and still a visual treat, but he doesn’t rely solely on Raimi’s old tricks. When he does, though, it is a thrill. Don’t worry – you’ll still have as much demon POV cruising through the misty woods as you need.
Evil Dead is violent, shocking, stylish, smart, and innovative. It in no way matches the heart of the original and it certainly will never earn the same affection. But to expect those things is unreasonable. This movie is not trying to accomplish what The Evil Dead was. It seeks to pay tribute to that singular, amazing experience and to expand upon that mythology that we already know so well.
And it fucking nails it.
5 out of 5
It took me some time and thinking to arrive at that score. My initial reaction to the movie was that I was underwhelmed given the insanely positive feedback I had read after the SXSW screenings. But I went into Evil Dead looking for the wrong things. I was looking for a remake and this is not a remake. I was looking for beats from the original that not only weren’t promised, but would have weakened and cheapened this movie had they been present. I have only in retrospect decided that this movie perfectly accomplishes what it set out to do and I can’t wait to see it again. I am going to do my level best to see this in the theater at least one more time because I simply can’t wait for it to hit Blu-Ray.
But I’ll definitely be buying it when it does.