Evil Dead is a remake of the classic Sam Raimi 1981 horror film – The Evil Dead, which was legendary in its ability to induce fear in the audience and humor them with slapstick violence despite having a budget that was less than $400,000. It (along with Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is perhaps the most influential horror film of all time.
That right there may be part of the problem. With the notable exception of Zack Snyder’s excellent Dawn of the Dead, horror remakes usually don’t get it right. And those who are familiar with the original, let alone fans of the original, are inherently the target audience for a film like this, which implies that the film (and the trailer) will be loaded with nods and full setpieces that are re-worked and/or re-imagined (some of which may not actually be in the film). And fans, ironically, are the first people who get bored at subsequent works of their beloved franchises because if you jam-pack enough of the original to win their hearts, suddenly you find that you don’t even have a movie anymore…just a collage.
Does Evil Dead do that? Yes and no. The film is definitely trying to do something original with the ideas of Evil Dead, but nods are there, and more importantly, the film stagnates itself by forgetting those ideas in favor of a very forced display of blood soaked showmanship.
Unlike the original film, in which the five kids were at the cabin in the woods to spend their spring break, Evil Dead is about a group of kids retreating to an old family cabin (in the woods) to help one of the girls (Mia) kick her reckless and destructive heroin habit – something they’re determined to do no matter how long they have to stay. When that girl is possessed by a Deadite, she wreaks havoc on the rest of them.
From there, the film goes for a darker, grittier, and more serious retelling of The Evil Dead…with about half the cosmetics of Evil Dead 2.
Where the film delivers is in the violence. Evil Dead is gory…REALLY gory, to the point where it seems like the film is trying just a bit too hard to impress me. The $15 million budget behind the film definitely pays off. Some will definitely consider it excessive but I happen to be of the sort who actually likes it when a film goes the distance on one of the ideas or themes that it seeks to define itself with. Gore is, for better or for worse but almost certainly for the better, a quintessential part of any Evil Dead movie and you’ll get plenty of it here.
Where the film falls short is quite simply in the fact that it’s not scary. There are a few moments in the film that are deliberately startling, but startling is not the same as scaring. Fear being an emotion that is subjective to literally anything, it’s impossible to quantify what is scary and what isn’t, but Evil Dead definitely misses the mark. In fact, the film doesn’t really convey that emotion at all. You’ll be a little disturbed when a guy pulls a giant needle out of his cheekbone, or when a girl performs cunnilingus on the edge of a knife. And you’ll cheer when the main character swaps the large knife for the chainsaw.
But, you probably won’t be scared, even if you’re new to the franchise.
The first two Evil Dead films worked because they were scary (from what started out as a demonic presence whose appearance was unknown) and then pulled out all the stops, making for a goofy and hilarious gore fest that lent a massive emotional payoff. Evil Dead is observably trying to do these things (some of the shots in the film are taken straight out of Raimi’s horror playbook), but the director – Fede Alvarez – can’t seem to go beyond what his film already takes for granted. It’s an Evil Dead movie, so all it has to do is show demons, unleashed from the Necronomicon, take over someone, have their bodies deteriorate into hideous monsters, and then viciously attack the rest of the cast, right? And that by itself is all that it takes to scare the pants off a viewer, right?
Wrong. The film is utterly predictable. The demons don’t seem to know anything other than how to attack people and how to turn Mother Nature into a registered sex offender which, sorry to say, isn’t an original idea anymore. What’s missing here is the torment factor. There’s an attempt at it, but remember how I mentioned that some of the fan nods in the trailer may not actually be in the film? Yeah, you’ll be as disappointed as I was when you see what I mean.
You might have noticed that I didn’t mention the actors. That’s because for the most part there’s nothing to mention. Jane Levy and Lou Taylor Pucci are the only actors who seem to know what they’re doing in the film, but every character is one note. That’s fine; it is, after all, an Evil Dead movie. The problems with this film have more to do with their awkward structure and script than they do the characters.
Like many modernized films belonging to a proud franchise, Evil Dead is so content with itself that it forgets to do something memorable. Alvarez doesn’t seem to know what he wants to do with a movie like this. All that emerges is a beautifully disgusting torrential outburst of gore. I enjoyed that a lot, but forgive me for expecting just a little more.
Evil Dead is not a bad film. It’s not even mediocre. It’s just a bit lost in its own sense of bliss.