Although this reimagining (it isn’t strictly a remake or a reboot) of Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2 is produced by the three people most directly responsible for the originals – director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and star Bruce Campbell – it doesn’t retain a whole lot of the identity that made them such enduring favourites, but to be fair to new director Fede Alvarez’s film, it doesn’t particularly try to.
Alvarez and his crew set out to make a full-on horror picture which took cues from, but didn’t emulate, what had been done before, and the film is successful in places at doing that. What it lacks is a real sense of an identity of its own, and it ends up feeling a little one-note, a little laboured, in its attempts to shock the audience.
The standard setup sees five young adults travelling to a cabin in the woods, where they discover a book that unleashes an evil spirit upon them. This time around, the story has one of the characters vowing to go cold turkey from her drug addiction, which provides the reason for the visit to the cabin, although guiding someone through drug rehabilitation in a remote location far from civilisation is probably not the best idea, even without evil spirits to contend with.
After that setup, Alvarez is free to put his actors through the ringer, inflicting all manner of pain upon them until the final showdown an hour or so later. The tagline on all the posters makes the bold claim that this is “the most terrifying film you will ever experience”, which kind of sets the film up for a fall before it even begins. It certainly doesn’t scrimp on the gore, and there are effectively scary moments, but the paper-thin plot – navigated by some pretty cheesy/silly dialogue, particularly in the first and last acts – doesn’t really establish a great deal beyond the bare bones necessary for the grimy set pieces. There are relationships going on between the characters, but these don’t come out very strongly – the film is unashamedly more interested in nail guns and chainsaws than it is in familial relations.
By choosing to play it straighter, Alvarez’s film misses some of the endearing lunacy of Raimi’s originals, particularly Evil Dead 2, and there is no character as memorable as Bruce Campbell’s Ash. Instead we have a set of five decent performances, five fairly stock characters, and the memorable stuff here is the nastiness that happens to the characters, rather than the characters themselves.
In the world of horror remakes, particularly in light of some of the terribly generic and, in some cases, just terrible stuff we’ve seen in recent years, Evil Dead is not without merit. It’s certainly impressive on a technical level, and Alvarez does show some directorial flair (particularly in a couple of sequences that reflect Raimi’s penchant for kinetic, fast-moving horror), but this is not as frightening as it would like to believe it is, nor as interesting.
Note: The film begins with a short prologue in which, at one point, a woman is lying on the ground. For reasons I cannot fathom, there is in this scene what can only be described as an ‘upskirt’ shot – it’s brief, but distractingly redundant. It was a moment more jarring than most of what followed, for all the wrong reasons, and set the film going on a sour note. Thankfully, this turned out to be a misstep that didn’t define the film’s general aesthetic.