It’s hard to know what to expect from the Evil Dead remake: Homage? Remake? New take? Sequel? The answer is a bit of all and not enough of one. Like many a contemporary remake Evil Dead doesn’t quite have the conviction to play its own hand (but plenty of conviction to sever two). That doesn’t, however, mean that there isn’t plenty to enjoy and even marvel. Some spoilers ahead.From the outset Evil Dead wants you to know it means business, there’ll be death, possession, and foul-mouthed demons and that’s all within the (not really necessary) prologue. None of this is wicked comedy. Director Fede Alverez is setting his own much nastier and dirtier tone and you’re on-boarded within seconds. All to a thumping score from Roque Barios, who expertly weaves the sound of (something like) an air-raid siren into moments of heightened tension and dread. From the title card onwards it’s a test of endurance, not only of the wonderfully graphic violence and body horror but also of clunky and endless exposition and baffling characterisation.
The first fifteen minutes drowns in terribly awkward exposition between recovering drug addict Mia, supportive brother David, and their group of tag-along buds; forgettable girlfriend, nerdy teacher, and film’s most inexcusably unprofessional nurse. The narrative device of isolating Mia in the cabin to go cold turkey is a decent way of getting the group into the woods in the first place. Although the background to all this personal history is shoved down your throat harder than a horny tree penis. Saying that, the thought of seeing all too real terrors when all around you believe you’re experiencing some kind of Woodstock come-down is truly scary.
However, once poor Mia is possessed the move really picks up pace and it’s pretty much full force blood and guts for the next hour. Here’s where Alverez really delivers. Faces are chopped up, hands and arms severed, heads caved in and horror’s greatest weapons, the crowbar, the chainsaw, the nail-gun, the syringe, the machete, and the shotgun all get a moment in the spot-light. But it’s the humble electric kitchen knife that steals the show with an arm severing that’ll make Aron Ralston look away. There’s some real craft to the body horror too, what a difference practical effects make.
Jane Levy does a fine job as Mia, a role that interestingly mixes victim and antagonist, masochistic ghoul and final girl. She could easily become a genre darling. The rest of the cast do a decent job with standard slasher characters (for all the film’s praise there’s little to the cast that you can’t find in any Friday the 13th movie). Two characters need a special mention. Firstly Lou Pucci’s unbelievably annoying school teacher who’s actions raise the evil (presumably the only reason for singling him out as a teacher is that he likes to read books.., books wrapped in barbed wire marked ‘do not read’) and who becomes less and less likeable and sympathetic as the movie progresses. Secondly Jessica Lucas’s nurse who at one point justifies the plan of taking a drug addict into these horrible squalid conditions as “the exact same treatment she’d receive in a hospital“.., WHAT KIND OF MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL ARE YOU!?! What an asshole. Just plain bad characterisation.
Character flaws are countered by the balls out visual horror and likewise the movie’s flaws ultimately succumb to a crazy, CRAZY finale which must be the single most blood soaked moment in horror and cinema history. Gallons of the red stuff flow as a successfully exorcised Mia confronts her demons for the final time. It’s a highly enjoyable finale which isn’t without questions (Why does Mia look so good considering pre and during possession she looked liked leprosy had taken a hold? Why sever Mia’s hand as a wink to Evil Dead 2 when we’ve already severed half an arm 20 minutes earlier?).
Evil Dead is certainly scary, definitely (and gloriously) gory, and very well photographed (there’s a lovely colour pallet on display). When it gets to where the director clearly wants to go it’s a strong, fun, terrifying movie.., but the road to get there is so clunky it’s no wonder Sam Raimi’s 1973 Oldsmobile never did attempt the return journey. PS stay in your seat until after the credits role for something a little groovy.