Since I saw Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead early, I totally could have had a review ready a long time ago. Look at me! I’m on top of things! I’m professional. Ughhhh I’m so lazy. Or busy. Let’s go with busy. Though I’m also a little surprised by the irrational levels of bile and praise folks were slinging back and forth since the film hit theaters and that’s given me pause. I’m sure I occasionally fail, but I have strong beliefs about not being that film critic that judges viewers with differing opinions, talks down to their audience, needs to be better than everyone else… get over yourself and enjoy the medium… but I would love to urge horror fans to calm down, accept the fact that the film isn’t perfect, and enjoy the blood-soaked practical fx wonderland that is Evil Dead. Together. Like a family.
Evil Dead, a remake/sequel/homage/whatever to Sam Raimi’s 1981 original, had been in development hell for years. In 2011, Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures finally announced their choices of Alvarez (known for the short film Panic Attack) to direct, Diablo Cody (Jennifer’s Body, Juno) to work on the script, and a tentative lineup of good-looking twenty-somethings to play the leads. Oh yeah. And there’s no Ash.
People. Flipped. Out.
If you don’t know who Ashley “Ash” Williams is, I fear you’ve stumbled into the wrong blog, but let me help you out. Beloved genre icon Bruce fucking Campbell, won our hearts as Ash with his campy performances and one-liners in The Evil Dead and its over-the-top 1987 remake, Evil Dead II (the favored version for most fans). His transformation from frightened vacationer to chainsaw-wielding badass (to hilarious jerk in the third film Army of Darkness) is a delight. Ash is the heart of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series. No doubt. So I can understand this reaction… if there’s no Ash, it’s not Evil Dead… but I strongly feel that leaving him out of the new film was the right decision. Go ahead. Just imagine them recasting the character. Pick an actor in their 20s working today, put him a blue shirt, cover him with fake blood and mud, and call him Ash. We would not accept him. We would tear this poor kid apart. Having Bruce Campbell, at 55, reprise the role is no good either unless it continues Army of Darkness (which IS in the works). No. Without even going into the remake vs sequel issue, this was the right call.
There was also the–at this point– predictable fanboy outrage about Diablo Cody’s involvement, which as a hardcore female horror fan, I find almost offensive. Although Megan Fox is usually blamed, I feel that Jennifer’s Body was a massive failure due to bad marketing choices. This wasn’t your typical T&A gory horror film aimed at dudes. This was smart insightful horror aimed at–HORROR OF HORRORS– high-school girls. (Unfortunately, the advertising was deceiving, chasing that “default” straight male audience, and the results were box office disaster.) With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to see the inclusion of a female writer and I was looking forward to seeing what her perspective would lend to Evil Dead. As it turns out, so little of her work appears in the final film that she doesn’t appear in the credits. So much for that.
Deep breath. Now the review…
The story doesn’t stray far from the plot of the original – kids in the woods find a cabin, a creepy book, read some words, bad shit goes down. The only change is this time the story is played completely serious, without the wild, creepy but wacky fun that is a Sam Raimi film. It’s an interesting choice, and I think a smart one. Trying to replicate Raimi’s original would have been folly – that film is lightning in a bottle, and that can’t be remade. Choosing the same exact story but an entirely different tone – that got my attention. More remakes/re-imaginings/whatever the kids are calling it these days should think about this instead of just copying.
Instead of following Ash (as JennyD discussed earlier), our main character is Mia (Jane Levy), a former drug addict trying to go cold turkey. To help her with this, her friends and brother take her to a cabin in the woods where she won’t be able to get a fix or leave to find one. Not a bad reason for the isolation that is so often contrived in these films. Once in the cabin, things go pretty much the way you’d expect. A book is found, words get read, trees come to life, things get all sliced up and cut off and slashed – shit gets real. To avoid spoilers from the few horror fans left who haven’t seen this movie, I won’t give away who’s possessed and who survives (hint – not too many people).
Evil Dead could be in the dictionary under “Grand Guignol”. It is the goriest horror film in a theater that I’ve seen in a long time. And that’s not a bad thing at all. Even better, every drop of blood, splat of internal organs, or monstrous facial distortion is done practically, in camera. Props to Fede Alvarez for choosing to go that route, because it definitely adds to the sense of realism. I won’t say what’s in the last 15 minutes, but damn, gore lovers will rejoice. It is insane. I mean, you’ll be happy the whole time, but that ending will just warm your little blood-splattered hearts. Production design is another strength, as is use of color, especially once things go nuts.
As a shout out to long-time fans, there are little touches from the original film in this movie, both hidden and overt. I thought they were fun touches which also added a potential larger scope to the film, but I know others found it distracting or annoying. Same with the after credits scene (which I will not reveal).
I’ve heard things like this movie is going to change the face of horror itself. Do I think that’s the case? No. Do I think it’s a quality flick that I enjoyed, would watch again and can recommend? Definitely.