The remake of Sam Raimi’s cult classic The Evil Dead is, well, actually kinda surprisingly not bad. There — we said it, and the statement is either heresy or a relief, depending on one’s feelings on the subject.
After all, fans have been split over the merits of the project ever since it was announced; the only reason it wasn’t completely and thoroughly condemned was because it was produced by Raimi and star Bruce Campbell, who figured if they didn’t do so first then somebody else would, and almost assuredly screw it up.
It was a shrewd move on their part. In director Fede Alvarez and co-writer Royo Sayagues they’ve found a team with the skill and creativity to find a new take on the material while remaining respectful of it, though it lacks the flourishes of the original. Evil Dead is being touted as “The most terrifying movie you will ever experience”; while that remains to be seen, it will likely be one of the most nerve-wracking, and (hopefully) the goriest.
After an opening teaser sequence that immediately lets you know what you’re in for, the movie slows its pace a bit and sets up its story and victims — er, characters: young Mia (Jane Levy) gathers her friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) at their family’s rundown cabin in the middle of the woods in a bid to kick her heroin problem. She plans to quit cold turkey, and she’s counting on the group to keep an eye on her.
Fate has other plans for them, of course, which is a bummer for them since a weekend with a detoxing dope fiend would have been a Spring picnic compared to what happens after Eric finds a book of black magic in the basement and inadvertently unleashes a literal hell on earth. Before you can say “Dead by dawn!” something causes the gang to start messing themselves and each other up in decidedly bloody and ungroovy ways.
It’s the sort of material that Cabin Fever and The Cabin in the Woods so effectively skewered, and that causes most jaded horror movie aficionados to cringe for altogether different reasons. Alvarez and Sayagues seem aware of this, and opt to ditch the original’s campy and self-effacing content in favor of a straightforward fright flick, and they deliver. The amount of mileage they get out blood, viscera, and practical effects is impressive.
There are nods to — and a few re-imaginings of — key tropes from the original and its first sequel (which technically was a remake of the original as well), but Alvarez is confident enough to go his own way rather than milk what came before. He proves quite adept at balancing tension, scares, and gore in a way that prolongs the tension, and he and Alvarez give the characters as much room to breath as the tight plot and appropriately brisk 90-minute runtime allow.
It’s lean and mean and has it share of surprises, which is far more than we’ve come to expect from these sort of movies.