Evil Dead is being advertised as “The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience”. This is a bold statement considering the grand history of horror in cinema, but I love that the producers of the film have the guts to go for it. With commercials featuring theatre attendants handing out concessions along with whiskey, anxiety pills, and diapers; and even the screening security team telling us we were in for quite an experience. One even went so far as to say he’s going to do his best to be searching the audience with his night vision scope during certain sequences so he didn’t have to watch them again. I was hoping for a film that was able to live up to this kind of hype.
Directed by Sam Raimi’s (Spiderman, Evil Dead) personally chosen successor, Fede Alvarez, from a script written by Alvarez and Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body) this is a remake of the critically acclaimed cult classic 1981 film of the same name. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s original Evil Dead is regarded by many as a perfect horror film and its cult following is rabid, loyal, and incredibly wary of this remake. Although, they are producers on the film, Raimi and Campbell largely left the creative work to all of the new cast and crew. Starring Jane Levy (Shameless, Suburgatory) as Mia, Shiloh Fernandez (Deadgirl, Red Riding Hood) as David, and Jessica Lucas (Cult, Cloverfield) as Olivia this film isn’t exactly the typical drive into the woods splatterfest.
David arrives at his family cabin with his new girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). He is there to support his old friends, registered nurse, Olivia and, teacher, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) in their attempts to help his sister Mia get clean from drug addiction. Mia, has been through a lot and David hasn’t been there for her. Many years ago their mother was dying in a hospital and David left Mia to care for her alone while their mother slipped into violent dementia before ultimately passing away. According to his friends Mia suffered an overdose and was barely resuscitated by the doctors in the hospital. They honestly believe that they need to keep her in the woods all weekend long under any circumstances in order to get her through her withdrawal. Obviously, this is not the usual send a bunch of city kids into the woods to party scenarios that we as horror audiences have grown so tired of. This is a legitimate reason to be deep in the woods, to stay even if someone complains that they’re uncomfortable and to even cause the person eschewing the warnings to doubt themselves. The reason I chose to highlight the motivation for our characters to be where they are and why they are inclined to stay there is because its nice to see this simple little evolution in the horror genre. Its not a major change, it doesn’t stop the audience from talking to the screen and telling the characters not to do things. It does however show that someone understands that you can’t keep doing things the old way anymore. The free pass is over and the film is all the better for it.
From this point we’re treated to a series of homages to the original film and some bold moves purely for audiences of this new one. How the Evil is brought to bear on this rustic cabin and its inhabitants is a little bit different than the original although there is a nice throwback reference later on. One of the positive things I can say is that things that were kept by the film were kept for more than simple nostalgia and things that were changed were all for the betterment of this film. Alvarez and Cody are obviously fans of the original but not so beholden to the classic that it crippled their ability to innovate and even improve upon certain sequences.
Jane Levy does an incredible job in the film and its clear why Bruce Campbell (Ash – Evil Dead 1981) said that he was proud to crown her the new Queen of the Evil Dead universe during his NY Comic Con panel last year. Things that should be noted are that Mia is not just a female Ash analogue. She is her own character, she has her own set of experiences and she ends up in different places than Ash does. That does not mean she isn’t the standout star of this film but the ride she takes the audience on is fairly amazing. Shiloh Fernandez, also does a great job being this film’s rudder, he keeps the story on point and moving towards its conclusion. He really fits into the role of an older brother trying to fix his broken relationship with his damaged little sister and you never feel like he is motivated by anything else other than making sure that at the end of the weekend she can move on with her life.
Fede’s skills as a director are to be commended, especially considering the Uruguayan has only really directed short films until this point. He gets great performances out of his actors and his crew really outdid themselves taking that iconic cabin and breathing new life into it. You’d certainly never know that this was his first Hollywood film and I guarantee that he will be a sought after genre director after this weekend. He had a task that few would even desire to attempt and and managed to exceed all expectations.
This film has a nearly impossible task in front of it. Evil Dead fans are extremely devoted. In order to impress these fans you’ve really got to make a film that leaves a lasting impression on them. Will this become a beloved classic like the film on which it was based? Only time will tell. Is it the most terrifying film I’ve ever experienced? I don’t know but it is certainly effective at eliciting jumps and screams from audiences. Does the gore live up to the original film? I’d say even with consideration for innovations in practical and digital effects since 1981 that this film easily outpaces the original in terms of splatter. Will fans of the original who went online and complained owe Bruce Campbell apologies for doubting the quality of the film before seeing it? I honestly think they will.
I think that with the exception of those that will simply never allow a remake to be considered as good or better than its predecessor, we’re looking at a standout horror film. I saw the film with some press, but mostly the public and I saw three walkouts. One of those walkouts had someone trying to keep them in the theatre but that didn’t work out. I saw several people around me leap from their seats during major scares and several jittery hands when it was time to collect our cell phones from the security check in.
I expect hardcore horror audiences to enjoy this film and believe it is worthy of the name Evil Dead.
– Mr. Khon
PS – For those of you following along on Twitter or Facebook and wanted to know how many times Lily Stitches legitimately jumped out of her seat during Evil Dead. It was 7. She also closed her eyes for about 3 minutes of film time.