Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci
You may like this if you like: The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981), The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012), anything involving gore, blood, guts and teenagers
I think we are all ever so slightly familiar with the story here, but here is a gentle reminder: As Mia (Levy) struggles with the inevitable cold turkey of giving up her drug addiction, her bunch of stereotypically generic friends take her to a cabin in a woods miles away from anywhere (!). They then discover a book entitled The Book of the Dead but read from it anyway because they are young and just do not care! When trying to escape, Mia is possessed by a plant and on her return that is immediately disregarded as the symptoms of her going cold turkey. However, Mia and then one by one the group of stereotypically generic teenagers become demonically possessed and turn on each other etc, etc.
Remake? Re-imagining? Whatever this maybe, Sam Raimi’s original films were tremendous fun, but very flawed. Well, Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead seems to take away the humour (intentional or otherwise) of the Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell originals, but seem to keep the same shoddy plotting and dialogue. Being made a few decades later (and having a $17 million budget), the special effects and the gore are of course much better, but there seems to be such a complacent approach that this is enough. For me, Evil Dead is a suitably enjoyable and extremely gory romp, but is both way too complacent and safe in its approach. It seems obvious that Alvarez is inspired by the recent ‘torture porn’ films of the horror genre and seems to think that upping the gore and a soundtrack that simply sounds like a world war II air horn up to 11 is enough.
This is certainly adequate, and at 91 minutes long and incorporating both parts one and two of Sam Raimi’s trilogy there is enough gore to keep things entertaining and watchable. Is it actually scary? Well no, not in the slightest in my view.
In an industry over populated by remakes (call it whatever you want, but this is essentially a remake whether we like it or not), Alvarez’s Evil Dead is one of the better ones. The whole question of ‘why the hell would five teenagers spend a few nights in a cabin miles from civilization’ is answered adequately enough in my view by the fact one of them is going cold turkey to stop being a junkie, and this is actually reasonably plausible. However, when they then open and read from a book that is covered in barb wire (!) and blatantly says “do not read (plus swear words)” all over it our humour is severely tested. The stoic approach of all involved to do the rest completely straight faced unfortunately proves to be this film’s downfall.
The blatant stoicism of Alvarez means that as gory and undeniably entertaining as this film is, it is more entertaining than genuinely scary. The budget allows them to show plenty of gore, but it never actually proves to evoke any sense of genuine terror or tension. Everything always feels way too safe; mainly down to the fact we do not care about any of these characters and know what will happen to them.
What is most frustrating is that this film is well made with a special effects budget spent wisely. The scenes in the woods are suitably claustrophobic and Aaron Morton’s cinematography is perfectly moody, but for me this is never enough.
Alvarez does obviously have a sense of humour, and those familiar with Raimi’s originals will notice the occasional nods and winks that I must confess did make me chuckle, and I am sure fans of the original will also enjoy. Their inclusion is fine, but again serves as a reminder that Alvarez’s film lacks so much genuine originality and doesn’t seem to ever want to attempt to have any. This is otherwise a straight laced affair, and given the ridiculous premise and plot developments, this will never ever be a genuinely scary film.
With enough budget and gore to satisfy the 21st century torture porn audiences, Alvarez’s ‘reimagining’ is entertaining enough to satisfy all, but lacks any genuine invention or shocks to ever be a horror classic. It is however, surprisingly watchable and entertaining.