Amidst the gasps and cries and giggles of, “That’s so cool!” and “So original!” from teenagers watching Evil Dead‘s infamous tree rape scene, I couldn’t help but find myself getting a little depressed about this remake. Half of the kids in the audience at the movie theater on opening night probably haven’t seen the original Evil Dead or its sequels; they don’t know who Sam Raimi or Bruce Campbell are, and they’ve never experienced a genre-defying film like Evil Dead without it tainted by the promise of a remake. This remake is what these kids are going to gauge the original by, I found myself thinking. That might make me a (young) grumpy old horror fan, but that’s okay – I’ll play the part of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino if that gets my point across that sometimes remakes ruin more than they tribute the original films.
It’s super hard as a horror fan and a lover of the original Evil Dead to watch this remake from Fede Alvarez with a clear head; it’s also difficult to tell if Alvarez wants us to do that, or if he wants us to remember the original. He uses shots directly from Raimi’s films to punctuate similar scenarios – the camera crashes through the woods to the cabin, or it follows as David (Shiloh Fernandez) chains down the basement door. Perhaps Alvarez works under the assumption that fans will take this remake as just another entry in the series, like Evil Dead II is.
Either way, though, Alvarez’s vision of Evil Dead is equal parts awesome and terrible, at the same time. If you can think of my mind as a divided brain, one side of me truly enjoyed the bloody, gory nature of what Evil Dead throws (and I’m not joking, it’s literally just thrown) at the audience while the other side found it completely deprived of what makes the original such a cult classic.
I’ve taken the liberty of breaking this review down into arcs because of my long-windedness here. There’s also a huge discrepancy between how I felt with the beginning of the film and then where it ended up. Therefore, this is an irregular (and insanely long) review for me, and so it required some semblance of focus.
I. The First Arc
There’s a lot to talk about here, and there’s no real point getting into the actual story of it because there isn’t one. Well, that’s not true; screenplay writers Alvarez and Diabo Cody try to incorporate some semblance of a plot within the remake. Mia (Jane Levy), a heroin addict, heads out to a cabin with her friends and brother to try to rehab herself. This sets up an interesting premise of why the group can’t leave – they don’t believe Mia when she tells them the woods are alive because she’s going through withdrawal and will lie to leave. But it also factors completely zero percent into the rest of the film (besides the events in the film being a giant, insanely overdramatic metaphor for her descent into chaos only to come out of it clean) – once the demons are released, guess how much of that set-up will matter.
The fact of the matter is that the first half hour of Evil Dead is complete shit, and I’m not saying that lightly. This is some over-written hooey meant to act like character development before stuff gets gooey and bloody, but Evil Dead doesn’t need any of that because everything has already been established previously. Does the film need the whole thing about drug addiction to require the kids to stay? No, because the bridge is out. Do the characters feel more real because of their insanely expository dialogue? No, because the film fails to continue to develop on these themes and they just disappear.
Jane Levy, fresh off of Suburgatory (and for a dude who watches that innocent and charming sitcom pretty routinely, it’s really strange to see her getting raped by a tree, spouting one-liners about sucking dicks, and then pulling her own arm off), does what she can with her part. She’s the best of this group by far, but that’s not saying much. Every single piece of dialogue in this film is so epicly terrible (and not the good terrible, it’s not meant to feel like a piece of B-movie writing) that you’d do best to just turn the sound off and watch in silence. Guess what, Olivia Blackmore? Your character is useless, and you make a better dead character than you do alive.
I’m being really harsh here on the first act of this film, but it really is unnecessary. It’s an example of redoing parts of a film to try to explain more, but it doesn’t need explanation. But being completely honest, the script kills this film. Try this line on for size, delivered by Lou Taylor Pucci as he squats so that it sounds like he’s saying it while taking a dump: “This book will NOT fucking burn!” What a gem.
II. The Second Arc
The most terrifying film you will ever experience. Well, that tagline, like we knew it would, is going to come back to haunt them. Evil Dead tries very hard to scare you with music stings, building crescendos, pulsing beats, dimly-lit hallways, creaking zombie necks and jump startles. But for any initiated horror viewer, for anyone who has seen a modern horror movie from the last five years, Evil Dead will feel completely blase. So much so, in fact, that your pulse won’t quicken in a suspenseful scenario – there isn’t one in the film. Every single scare here is so obvious and explicit that you’ll see it coming before the movie even begins. Seriously, take a stab at what you think a scare might be in this movie – it’s there.
That’s the big problem with Evil Dead – Alvarez takes a lot of time setting up elaborate sequences of blood and guts, but he skimps on atmosphere. It’s not surprising, because most modern horror does today, but if Alvarez had spent just a little more time crafting more original scares, Evil Dead could have been something truly remarkable.
Because it revels in blood and violence. That’s great, and sometimes, there are moments of genius. Mia trapped in the walls while a machete slices through, scraping across her flesh? Pure, excruciating genius. The set-pieces are so elaborate, and I loved the amount of grue involved. But all that blood on-screen at once is obviously compensating for something. It’s all shock value and nothing more. There’s blood and piss and vomit in the film, sometimes two at the same time. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Shiloh Fernandez taking a shit on the toilet, only to stand up and have the camera pan in while the turd turns into some kind of feces-tentacled monster.
And that’s because Evil Dead lacks minimalism, so it tries to throw extremes our way. If it can’t scare with subtle moments of tension, it’s just going to throw the kitchen sink at the audience. Did that last scare make you jump? No? Well how about a geyser of blood vomit into this chick’s face? Will that make you cringe? Gross things are done in this film just because they can do them, not because they make sense.
Yet I have to admit a part of me thought that all of this was very fun. What’s wrong with fun? When you watch a film like Evil Dead for something more than that, you’re kind of hurting what the original intent was all along. Then again, Alvarez seems to be deeply afflicted with what kind of tone he wants the film to have. For the most part, it’s serious and brooding, but then he throws those stupid one-liners in like he wants us to be laughing. Perhaps that’s the point – we’re laughing and cringing at the same time, the way those terrible ’50s B-movies make us feel.
But Evil Dead is simply fun and nothing more. And when you’re trying to create an homage to a film so iconic as Evil Dead, that’s not really the level to shoot for. Unfortunately, the teens who have never seen the original will favor this remake above all others; it is gory and demented and apparently, to them, “original.” That’s going to call for more of the same – films with goopy gore but with little substance. Evil Dead is one of them, a great movie for fans of action and guts but nothing more. To play the father figure here, I’m fascinated by what the remake has accomplished but not proud of the end result.