Sam Raimi's original 1981 zero budget love letter to the horror genre is one that not only benefits greatly from the little indie film that could ethos and a healthy dose of humor and gore. He created a sandbox in which he could inventively inflict such terrible things on his characters. It resulted in a downright hilarious, fun and bloody good time. Remakes are an inevitability these days and, well, the big studio remake from Fede Alvarez will be painstakingly compared by most to the original. There is a definite lack of humor in this one and, tonally, it is so very different from the original. That is where this one stands out the most, perhaps, all the benefits of a bigger budget aside.
The setup of the original involves five friends going to the cabin in the woods for vacation. Here the story has been altered to deal with the relationship between two siblings, Mia (Jane Levy) and David (Shiloh Fernandez). Mia is a heroine addict who has fallen off the wagon yet again and with friends in tow she is attempting to go cold turkey again. This was an interesting choice to update the story. You've got the addiction allegory that at least gives the others some reason to pause and consider that, maybe, these are the demons of withdrawal that she is suffering from later on and not actual possession. The rest of the group is rounded out by a registered nurse, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), the brother's girlfriend, Emily (Elizabeth Blackmore) and the far-too-curious for his own good school teacher, Peter (Lou Taylor Pucci).
The introduction to the film is blistering and hits you with punch to the face that is quite strong. The Book of the Dead is introduced right away here and the glimpses of its evil are hinted at heavily. The film tries to walk a fine line between a much more serious tone and still not taking itself too seriously. I'm going to give props to Jane Levy and Lou Taylor Pucci here for taking their roles and elevating them past the usual horror show chicanery. Some interactions don't quite work, sure, but I found myself leaving the theater actually remembering the names of the characters and giving a damn about the sibling relationship between Mia and David. That, in itself, is an accomplishment for a horror film let alone one that has to live up to such a strong franchise name.
The wheels turn a bit slowly at first, I will admit but once this train gets rolling it is truly unstoppable. Evil Dead provided me more moments of pure sensation and cathartic joy than nearly anything I've seen thus far this year. I figured that the trailers really gave away all the punch of this film but far from it. I found myself surprised by it constantly and, frankly, the fact that this got an R rating is surprising. I know they cut this film some to get below an NC-17 rating but even so it still feels like it could have easily went outside the "R" rating confines. There is so much viscera here that I found myself having flashes of movies like "Dead Alive" at times.
Maybe I should explain this a little better eh? There is a pure sense of bliss that comes from being able to enjoy a B-movie style bloodbath. There is an art to the carnage that, in this instance, just continually escalates until we reach our conclusion. There was a sheer joy to all of it that felt unhinged and gloriously like so many of the horror movies that I love so dearly. The original felt like this. If anything this remake managed to capture that spirit of the first film. No there isn't that low budget wizardry and the heart beating at the center of this film isn't quite the same but both films managed to deliver this sense of feeling between catharsis and disgust.
You will find yourself laughing out loud within moments of nearly gasping at the sheer brutality of it all. That is a VERY Sam Raimi-esque thing and this remake has succeeded admirably in it.
It's interesting how unsexist this movie is as well. Mia, the possessed catalyst for all the dominoes falling, serves as our film's center and it works so well. The scene, for example, where the trees bind her and, well, have their way. The scene is similar to the original except for the penetration is only implied here. There is nothing sexy about it. There is nothing lurid about it. It is uncomfortable and made me squirm. All of the females within are certainly attractive women, but they aren't just pieces to either to show some nudity or just get slaughtered. I don't consider this torture porn honestly. I have mixed feelings about that side of horror, to be honest, but this is not torture porn. This is, instead, oddly feminist at times and frankly Mia ends up becoming (what I hope) is the first of a series of female-centered movies within the newly minted Evil Dead franchise.
Go see this in theaters while you can. The experience is so much better with other horror fans. Screeching and cackling at the same bits felt like group therapy at times. It was a fun time at the cinema that I hadn't had in some time.