When approaching first time feature director Fede Alvarez’s remake of Sam Raimi’s iconic 1981 exercise in gruelling terror, Evil Dead, do not expect a Raimi film. Expect a different, modernized experience that remains as absolutely terrifying and somehow grittier and grimier than its low budget source. It’s not a step backwards or forwards, but more to the side. It’s a story within the same universe as the original films, but without the same characters.
Five friends head to a secluded cabin in the woods to help their friend Mia (Jane Levy) kick her drug habit cold turkey. While there they uncover a basement full of dead animals and find a mysterious book bound in human flesh that awakens dark and bloodthirsty forces all around them.
The beauty of the original Evil Dead story was always in the simplicity of it. The characters are just deep enough to be cared about and psychologically interesting while still serving as a starting point for gratuitously gory shock moments. There’s the estranged brother of the girl, her best friend, the brainy boyfriend, and another friend. That’s all that’s needed to be known about them because the simpler the situation is, the more the theatrics are allowed to shine through. The cast fills their roles quite nicely all around.
It’s what made Raimi’s film so original and shocking in the first place. It was psychologically sound, and Alvarez never tries to one-up the work that was already done. His film has some young people, a cabin, and several set pieces meant to echo high points in the franchise, but this isn’t the kind of winking and nodding self-reflexivity that Joss Whedon brought to Cabin in the Woods last year. This is sheer, unremitting dread that’s as serious as a heart attack and pulled off in an exemplary fashion with the few comedic beats coming in the form of bleak gallows humour and over the top, practical make-up effects.
The story also features a different final act, which might be flawed in execution but is thematically interesting given the new addiction based narrative the film now hangs from. The look of the film is brighter, which might chafe some Raimi purists. These are minor complaints, however, since the point of the film is to fill audiences with anxiety and fear, both of which it does in spades.
Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Top image: A scene from Evil Dead. Courtesy Sony Pictures.