Starring: Jane Levy (Fun Size), Shiloh Fernandez (Red Riding Hood), Jessica Lucas (Cloverfield), Lou Taylor Pucci (Carriers), Elizabeth Blackmore
Director: Fede Alvarez
Writer: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
Runtime: 1 hour 31 minutes
Release Date: 5 April (US), 18 April (UK)
I have to start this review by stating that I am a huge fan of the original Evil Dead trilogy. The Evil Dead was one of the defining horror movies of its era, jumpstarting the career of the legendary Sam Raimi. Evil Dead II is the film that all horror-comedies should be compared to (and is one of my all-time favourite movies). Army of Darkness, whilst losing its focus on the horror and becoming more of a fantasy film, is still immensely enjoyable and is easily one of the most quotable movies in existence. The idea of remaking such a horror classic is a worrying thing, especially given the track record of horror remakes in recent years. Does Evil Dead (no The this time) break the mould, or should you just watch the original instead?
On the most basic levels, this follows the premise of the original film in several key areas. However, the details have all been changed. Whilst some would call this sacrilegious, I’m glad the film isn’t just a retread of what we’ve already seen. The idea that they are there to help one of them get over a drug problem is an interesting aspect of the story, at first calling into question whether this is all just in Mia (Levy)’s head whilst also giving another reason why they don’t leave at the first sign of trouble. The problems really set in with the execution of it. After a gorily fun but ultimately pretty pointless prologue (that I can only guess is here so something horrifying happens at the beginning), the film takes a long time getting to the meat of the movie. This would be more acceptable if this time was spent getting to know the characters, but we don’t. With the exception of Mia, we get about five minutes to get to know the characters, and then most of them don’t really develop beyond that. I get that the characters in the original were hardly the most developed and interesting group of people, but times have changed; you can’t get away with having just basic cardboard-cut-out stereotypes and then expect me to care. This could have been saved if the dialogue was at least witty and memorable, but most of it just seems a bit stiff. The film seems so afraid of falling into camp that it just sucks all the humour out of the story and we are left with something that lacks a fully functional heart. The movie moves slowly at first in attempt to build tension, but spends so long doing so that it just becomes tedious. Once s*** starts to hit the fan, things peak up considerably but again it takes itself so seriously and tries to convince me to care when the film hasn’t earned it. Despite some great moments spread across the film, it doesn’t keep up the momentum enough to stay constantly enjoyable once the gore starts literally flowing. For all us Evil Dead aficionados out there, there are many references to all three films, and thankfully they never feel too forced. Oh, and there is something for the fans after the credits but it so short and unsatisfying you might as well not bother.
The acting in the original The Evil Dead was hardly anything to rave about; even the great Bruce Campbell had yet to truly develop his shtick at that point. The cast here is similarly serviceable for the most part, but Jane Levy is the standout here. She was the only one who actually seems to having some fun whilst also putting her all into every aspect of a character that is only who actually has any dimension. Whether she’s a stressed-out drug addict, a possessed b**** with serious schizo tendencies or a demon-fighting badass, she wades through the material and truly stands out. No one else even comes close to delivering a performance as good as Levy, and for the most part are just there to be attacked by demons or become them. Fernandez does the best he can with the material, but the character of David (who constantly, even in the most bizarre and dire of situations, always says “There’s got to be a logical explanation to all this!”) makes so many questionable decisions that you know it can’t end well for him. Pucci’s Eric is similarly afflicted with dumbass syndrome, not bothering to tell anyone that what is happening is detailed in The Book of the Dead until it is far too late to be of use. Lucas and Blackmore are pretty much pointless to the plot, but do get some standout gore moments that make their presence worth it in the end.
The main selling point Evil Dead has been touting has been the gore, and it does not disappoint at all on this front. This isn’t some pussyfied PG-13 nonsense; this is the real deal. It’s bloody, it’s disgusting and, best of all, it’s all done practically. This is how horror movies used to be done and should be done on a spectacle level, and several moments (even ones similar to scenes from the originals) had me wincing. Scenes from the originals, such as the possessed hand and the infamous tree scene, have received new touch-ups that are suitably gut wrenching. All of this gore, combined with some killer sound design, makes for a technical display that literally nails it. Raimi is known for his inventive cinematography, and whilst the film does well at imitating that style, it still didn’t feel right. I think this is because the film was shot digitally; considering they’re going old-school on pretty much else, I think it would have made more sense if it had been shot on film.
The Evil Dead remake is a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst the effects are spot-on and Levy gives a performance that could define her career, the film never quite nails what made the originals such classics. It is still worth a watch for both Evil Dead fans and fans of horror in general, and is one of the better remakes out there. Hopefully, it will gain enough traction to get newcomers to the franchise to check out the originals. Talk of a sequel is already underway and, despite my issues with this first attempt, I’m interested to see what they do with it. But if anyone over at Tri Star or Ghost House is reading this (which they’re probably not, but hey can’t say I didn’t try) here’s my one big note to you: get some new writers. Alvarez definitely has potential as a director, but as a writer he is lacking. Let him stay on to direct, but get someone else to come in and pen the screenplay. Maybe then we’ll get a movie worthy of the cult status of the originals.
FINAL VERDICT: 6.5/10