This intense re-imagining of Sam Raimi's 1981 low-budget gore-fest, The Evil Dead, which spawned two sequels and remains a cult favourite today, is the feature debut from Fede Alvarez. Raimi (Spiderman, Oz: The Great and Powerful), his Evil Dead star, Bruce Campbell, and original producer, Robert G. Tapert, remained involved to supervise this new addition to the franchise, serving as producers. Five twenty-somethings - a brother and sister, Mia (Jane Levy, very good) and David (Shiloh Fernandez), David's girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and Mia's friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) - meet at an abandoned cabin deep in the forest. The reason: not to party, but to form an intervention to support Mia through drug withdrawal and a give her opportunity to cleanse herself from her addiction. When they discover a book titled Naturom Demonto: The Book of the Dead, irresponsibly opened by Eric, releases a demonic presence from the surrounding woods.
The interesting thing about this Evil Dead is that the female characters out-resource their moronic male companions. Something that bothered me somewhat about Raimi's film was the way the female characters were targeted first and suffer the most. It is the men who venture into the cellar and bring the Naturom Demonto upstairs and Eric, for no particular reason, reads the enchantments scrawled in the book, ignoring the evident warnings. Even though he begins to suspect he is directly involved, his attempts to help others are weak and he all-but gives up and surrenders to the horrors.
As Mia is the first to be possessed, having simultaneously hit rock bottom in her stages of withdrawal, it is understandable that David and the others attribute her hallucinations and strange behaviour to this. This acceptable reasoning doesn't apply for long and logic hasn’t been given a facelift from Raimi’s film. Natalie, when she discovers that the infection from her hand has begun to spread up her arm, takes measures that I can’t imagine David (The inferior stand-in for Campbell's Ash here) doing.
There are familiar features that hark back to Raimi’s film – the cabin from the outside looks almost identical, there is a chained cellar, a tree that does some disturbing things, and an equipped tool shed. While the story takes on a different direction, the sequence of events remains quite faithful. There are enough fresh ideas to separate it from many failed horror clones and with the exception of some developments – a few provoked scoffing in my screening - I feel like there will be many Raimi-trilogy fans who will get a kick out of it.
The red-drenched direction the film takes in the final act is one this reviewer embraced. It is unclear for most of the film who the central protagonist is, but the reveal of the hero is an interesting turn of events, and the back-to-back-to-back thrills make for a ripper of a finale. It leaves the viewer with enough highlights to forgive some of the missteps along the way.
One such disappointing elementis the narrative’s reliance on the book's content. Alvarez takes every opportunity to remind us that everything we see is mirroring the pictured prophecies in the book. This doesn’t flatter the intelligence of the audience. Even when David is trying to figure out how to kill the demon in Mia, the means are stipulated in the book. In the prologue a character stipulates bluntly: “Only the evil book can undo what the evil book has done” and this is quite problematic.
Alvarez has said that with the exception of some CG touch ups (and they're obvious, unfortunately) he went old school with the effects; utilising some extraordinary make-up and prosthetics. While there are effective jump scares, and Alvarez establishes a chilling atmosphere, it is not a particularly tense film, which is hard to believe considering the barrage of nastiness. A lonesome swamp venture featuring Jane Levy early on does favour suspense, though. Aaron Morton’s photography, which makes griminess look beautiful, utilises great lighting and has his camera adopting odd angles and lurking threateningly to imitate the unpredictability of the danger. Though it doesn't quite have the kitchen-sink repertoire of Raimi's film, there are still some nifty tricks.
Evil Dead is hardcore horror and an impressive technical feat. It takes on the redundancy challenge posed by Drew Godard’s The Cabin in the Woods and the franchise reboot idea, and though it suffers in character and narrative, it offers enough dream-lingering, limb-dismemberment mayhem to not be dismissed.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.