Ahhhh, The Evil Dead. Do you remember how you felt when you first saw it? That intensity, that feeling of being in the hands of someone determined to put you through the wringer alongside the characters? I remembered it so vividly that I was able to recount the experience for a book I was lucky enough to contribute to.
So I was as ready to be snappy as every other fan when I heard that it was getting the remake treatment (it actually takes elements from both The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II). Then I saw the trailer and was quite impressed. Director Fede Alvarez made the whole thing more appealing when he told everyone that practical FX would make up most of the gory stuff. And when it opened a little while ago in America the praise from horror fans was almost unanimously positive.
Evil Dead deserves some praise, it’s not a terrible film and it’s a very reverential remake that gets a lot right. Sadly, I fear that too much of the praise is coming from fans relieved to see that the franchise hasn’t been irreparably broken while enjoying all of the nods and winks (and there are LOTS) informing us all that the film was at least made by people who had seen the original movies. Sadly, they didn’t quite take away the same thing from The Evil Dead that I did.
There’s an opening sequence, then we get the title. After that, it’s time to meet Mia (Jane Levy). Well, first of all we meet Mia’s brother, David played by Shiloh Fernandez, and his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). And Mia’s friend, a nurse named Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and another friend, a teacher named Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). They are all there to help Mia kick her drug habit. It’s an intervention and it’s taking place, oh yes, at a certain cabin in the woods. There’s even a certain oldsmobile abandoned beside it. Mia has a tough time, someone finds some stuff that looks creepy and eventually stuff goes all demonic and crazy.
When the credits rolled on Evil Dead I stayed for the very end, I’d been tipped off that there was a nice surprise worth waiting for. There IS a surprise, but it’s neither nice nor worth waiting for. So I’m just letting you know about that now. As I left the cinema I thought about what a good time I’d just had. Then I started to think about it more and more and I realised that I hadn’t always been enjoying the film. I’d been enjoying the best bits from the older films that were referenced and sometimes replicated in this.
I think the first big mis-step is the script, co-written by Alvarez with Rodo Sayagues (with an uncredited polish by Diablo Cody). I knew that something wouldn’t feel right when there was a pre-title sequence. You have to have a prologue before throwing some nasty demons at five teenagers in the woods now? The intervention makes for a great excuse for the group to be out in the middle of nowhere, and it also makes things interesting when Mia starts experiencing something wicked this way a-coming, but it becomes overplayed when things onscreen start to play out as heavy-handed metaphor. Then we have the finding and opening of the book that causes all of the problems, a book wrapped in barbed wire and full of pages that say: “do not read, do not write, do not speak”, warnings promptly ignored by a character you then stop caring about. This would be difficult to accept at the best of times. After The Cabin In The Woods it’s virtually impossible.
The cast all do a good job in their roles, especially Levy, Fernandez and Pucci, but everyone knows not to expect Oscar-winning performances here. The young stars look about the same age as those who starred in the original and it’s at least refreshing to see that the film-makers didn’t go for a bunch of vapid teens to torture.
There’s some good ‘Raimi-cam’ on display and the audio work is superb throughout, but Alvarez never pushes anything quite as far as he could. This movie lacks the unending tension and unease that the original had. It tries to make up for that with more gore (damn fine gore, it has to be said) and a bit more tension in the finale, but those things aren’t enough.
“It’s not fair to keep comparing the film to the original,” you might say, and you’d have a point. However, every step of the way has seen Alvarez, and Sam Raimi and producer Bruce Campbell (Ash in The Evil Dead movies), announce that this would be a remake true to the spirit of the original and that fans wouldn’t be disappointed. Well this fan WAS disappointed. Disappointed with a movie that got bonus points by including so many greatest hits from past glories and disappointed in himself for believing the hype.
There is still every chance that this will actually be an Evil Dead for a new generation, there may be a bunch of angry teenagers reading this right now who may never take notice of another review I write, but I thought it was just a good horror movie that will remind fans of a few better horror movies. It’s a fun movie to catch at the cinema for a late-night showing and I support it for a number of reasons (the practical FX work, the fact that it didn’t totally drop the ball, the casting of fake shemps). I just don’t love it.
DIRECTOR: FEDE ALVAREZ
WRITER: FEDE ALVAREZ, RODO SAYAGUES (BASED ON THE ORIGINAL WORKS BY SAM RAIMI)
STARS: JANE LEVY, SHILOH FERNANDEZ, LOU TAYLOR PUCCI, JESSICA LUCAS, ELIZABETH BLACKMORE
RUNTIME: 91 MINS APPROX