When the Evil Dead remake was first announced, the entire Internet horror fan community cried foul; but, little did they know at the time, that director Fede Alvarez (along with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell as producers) would create an instant modern horror gem that may very well shape the future of cinematic horror. Alvarez’s Evil Dead (2013) is beyond expectation, a gory, gooey, splatter-filled masterpiece. There has never been this much blood in an R-rated theatrical release. It is incredible. And the effects are, for the most part, practical laking the dependency most films have on CGI special effects. The film is not perfect, most of the issues are with the pacing and characters resulting a lack of investment in the characters. And the film isn’t necessarily scary as much as it is shocking and horrific in its visuals; however, the film is unnerving and intense. The acting is superior for the demands of this film with Jane Levy as a strong stand out nearly carrying much of the film on her own. With what could have been another disaster remake along the lines of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) or, worse, Prom Night (2008), the Evil Dead re-imagining serves up a delicious cup of horror brew unlike seen and experienced for a long, long time.
The script for Evil Dead follows its predecessors, Evil Dead (1981) – Evil Dead II (1987), thematically throughout but not without throwing in a couple of keenly twisted curves along the way. First things first, there is no Ash Williams in this screenplay, wisely so. This is a new group of hapless vacationing twenty-somethings without getting too far from the original set, but thankfully without resorting to typical Hollywood characterizations as well. In this 2013 revision, the five characters that decide to spend the weekend in a remote cabin deep in the woods are all friends trying to help their colleague beat her drug addiction. David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) arrive at the cabin to join Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) where David is re-united with his sister, Mia (Jane Levy) for the first time since the death of their mother. The four of them hunker down to support Mia quit her drug habit cold turkey – Olivia being a nurse to watch over her. Before long, Eric (who is also a professor) discovers the Book of the Dead in the basement wrapped in barbed-wire determined to open it and driven to read its contents. Much like the original, once that happens all hell breaks loose – quite literally it seems and the new film begins to chisel its own path toward a graphic, blood-soaked conclusion. Many elements of the original are intact, the trees that attack, chainsaws and demonic possession, but this one trades dark comedy for brutal, vicious horror (while managing to retain a deep rooted sense of twisted humor). The surprises from here on in are delightfully shocking and inventively fresh.
The film’s biggest strength is the abundance of practical effects, from the gruesome make-up to the showers of blood raining (literally!) down on its cast. Red is the color of Evil Dead, no pretend yellow or black blood here – it is red, deep dark red: crimson, thick and free-flowing. And there is lots of it. There’s dismemberment, dis-figuration, chainsaws, nail guns and so many sharp objects slicing into flesh it will make a grown man whimper and cower like a child. Once the mayhem begins, the entire cast must endure Fede Alvarez’s ferocious imagination and merciless pace. One cast member must pull a needle out of his eye, another must choose to amputate her infected arm with an electric carving knife and another (a seen in the red-band trailer) intimidates her cabin-mates by slicing through her tongue with a box cutter. And that’s just the beginning. The film also contains some brilliant setting effects as well. The famous (or perhaps, rather, infamous) tree scene from the original is back, ramped up and far more horrific. The basement contains an air of disgust and damnation. The cabin is littered with seemingly harmless items that are suddenly turned horrifically destructive and dangerous in context to the demonic situations. And things get worse during the conclusion when the setting moves to the storage shed just outside, just yards from the cabin.
Fede Alvarez displays a demented but energized and charismatic imagination with his feature debut. His Evil Dead is obviously inspired by Sam Raimi’s classic, but his execution is far from Raimi’s signature frantic pace and camera work. Alvarez does not try to compete with Raimi’s style, instead brings a modern approach to the composition and pacing. He does manage to include a nod or two to the Raimi cinematic mark but without copying it entirely which is smart and appreciated. His vision is draped in shadow, lighting and fleshy-thick atmosphere. If Raimi’s Evil Dead (especially with II) has a cartoon-like quality to it, Alvarez’s version is the amusement park haunted attraction based on that cartoon, but far more gruesomely rendered and realized. He practically buries his audience in the horror and blood. If this is any indication of what audiences will get from future output from this young, talented director, horror fans have an extraordinary promising new champion to follow.
While most of the actors are slighted in the script department, actress Jane Levy, as the first victim and the film’s lead protagonist, manages to make the most of her role. She leaves an indelible mark on the film providing horror its first glimpse at its newly-crowned Scream Queen. She is remarkable, providing a barrage of transformations in her character from bitch, to victim, to possessed, to hero. Her scene in the bunk bed when Shiloh’s David, her character’s brother, approaches her after her attempted escape from the cabin, where she tries to warn the others of the oncoming doom, is intense, frightening and foreboding. Her performance sets the tone for the entire film, then and a number of times afterwards. And, she is put through hell throughout Evil Dead as well and comes out a champ not unlike Bruce Campbell’s iconic Ashley Williams. Hail to Queen, baby.
Make no mistake, Evil Dead is NOT for the squeamish. This is serious horror, unrelenting, brutal and vicious and a worthy remake (or re-imagining) of the much-beloved 1981 classic. Fede Alvarez displays a passion and respect for the source material that is evident within each an every frame. His eye for the grotesque and gruesome is unique, original and invigorating. While the film is light on character development and investing its audience in the drama surrounding Mia’s drug addiction, his pacing and attention to atmosphere more than make up for it. With his version of Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez has instantly risen to the top of horror filmdom’s brightest and most promising stars alongside the likes of James (Insidious, The Conjuring, Saw) Wan, Jason Eisener and Adam Wingard. Even with recent output, each film trying to outdo the previous, from Final Destination films to Saw films to Hostel and dozens of similar foreign horror films, few reach the intensity and expanse of carnage present in Evil Dead. Somewhere out there in cold storage there must be over a half dozen film cameras that are eternally stained red from blood. This film is a gore-filled, blood-drenched love letter to horror fans. Along side the director and the effects, Evil Dead contains a new horror actress destined to be hailed as a scream queen. Jane Levy is wonderful, enchanting and, best of all, frightening as Mia. Evil Dead far exceeds expectations, buries any fears of desecrating its source material and ushers in a new era of horror cinema where shock and awe is king. Horror has long needed a new guiding light, and Evil Dead is it. Highly recommended.