Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is about as gruesome as a film can be. Apparently, the film holds the record for the most fake blood ever used on set and it shows. Box cutters slice tongues. Mirror shards carve off faces. Possessed women vomit up geysers of blood. By the time it starts literally raining blood, you’re not surprised. It’s also a solid little horror film. It’s redundant, but you don’t care as Alvarez’s formal prowess has made the nasty beast look almost tasteful.
The plot of Evil Dead is much the same as the original—that is, much the same as every cabin in the woods movie ever made, including The Cabin in the Woods. Five young people head to an abandoned cabin, uncover an ancient book, and unleash evil demons. Everything goes to hell. The twist, nicely added by Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues, is that the people are at the cabin because it’s a remote place for Mia (Jane Levy) to go cold turkey. She’s a junkie and has sworn off dope, but she’s tried quitting before and her friends are going to drastic measures to make sure it works this time.
The inclusion of the drug addiction plot gives the film some thematic heft—not that you’re looking to a film like Evil Dead for much of that kind of thing. Moments such as when Mia vomits blood onto her nurse, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), or talks about noxious smells coming from the basement have their parallels in the experience of a junkie. They’re recognizable moments of human vulnerability in a supernatural thriller. But Alvarez doesn’t push the metaphor too hard. This isn’t The Babadook, where the subtext becomes text. Instead, the subtext helps to build Mia’s character, who comes across as more than a typical horror movie victim. It helps that Levy is a formidable actress with a real face for terror. Her large eyes speak volumes.
She also plays evil well in the scenes when Mia becomes possessed and starts threatening the characters to let her loose. Like Alvarez’s more recent and better Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead moves at a breakneck pace. Characters rarely sit around and talk about their next moves. Instead, they act (often stupidly) and those actions have awful consequences. Things progress quickly, from vomit to blood and from box cutters to chainsaws. One second, Mia is freezing from withdrawal, and the next she’s pinned down by a possessed tree intent on raping her. The plot never sits still.
Alvarez’s camera keeps the momentum going too. Its steadicam sweeps and roving perspective shots (inspired by Raimi’s iconic dolly shots in the original) are fluid and impressive. His frame is sharply composed and the colours are desaturated but highly textured. There is a not a boring frame here, even if Alvarez doesn’t seem to have any knack for humour, visual or verbal.
In other words, this is not The Evil Dead of Raimi and Bruce Campbell—for that, tune into Starz on Sundays for Ash vs. Evil Dead. It takes the premise and the formal innovation of the original, shakes loose the ironic camp, and distills it into a nasty piece of work. It’s a good remake, even if it would’ve been fine if it never existed in the first place.
6 out of 10
Evil Dead (2013, USA)
Directed by Fede Alvarez; written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, based on The Evil Dead by Sam Raimi; starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore.