Writer/director Fede Alvarez’s remake of Evil Dead stands as an example of what a remake should be. The filmmakers—not content with simply creating a shot-for-shot rehash of the original—took elements of the cult classic and blended them into something new. The result is somewhat mixed, but still praiseworthy.
Anyone who’s seen Sam Raimi’s original horror flick knows the general contours of this movie. A group of kids go to a decrepit cabin in the woods to pass a weekend. They uncover and read a passage from a horrific book bound in human flesh. Horrible demons possess and kill each one of the kids. It’s a simple, effective blueprint and the filmmakers don’t veer from it.
This time, however, the cast of characters is different. There’s no Ash, for starters. In his place is Mia (Jane Levy), a junkie who travels who travels to the cabin with her childhood friends so that she can detox and ultimately kick her heroin habit. Because we’re dealing with a new cast of characters, the film gains an element of surprise as we have no idea who will survive this time around.
Sure enough, the kids uncover a flesh-bound tome in the cellar of the cabin. One of the kids reads from it and summons a demonic entity(s). We learn that once five souls are collected, an abomination will be allowed to wreak havoc upon the Earth again and, of course, the first person the demon singles out is Mia, who’s going through withdrawal.
This change to the script works for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that demonic possession here serves as a metaphor for drug addiction. Here we have a girl whose entire chemistry has been altered by a foreign agent; her friends may recognize her physically, but as soon as the demon/drug takes control over her, she’s a different person entirely. It’s a concept that’s been done before, but it adds another layer to the proceedings.
However, the real reason the drug angle works is that it makes the characters more sympathetic. How many hundreds of horror movies have been based on the premise of a group of kids running into trouble in the midst of a quest to get drunk and have fun? The sheer irresponsibility of most horror movie protagonists makes them immediately unlikable. Here, however, we have a group of twenty-somethings traveling out into the wilderness to save their friend. Their mission is entirely worthwhile and even noble.
Further, when Mia is eventually possessed by one of the evil dead, it makes sense that the group doesn’t immediately depart for civilization. When Mia starts ranting and raving about a demonic force in the woods, they chalk it up to withdrawal. Hallucinations are a symptom of withdrawal, and naturally, Mia would probably do anything to escape the cabin in order self-medicate. The noble purpose of the group combined with a justifiable reason for ignoring the danger right in front of them makes them immediately more interesting than the typical fodder we find in these movies, including the cast of the first Evil Dead (excluding the charismatic Bruce Campbell, of course).
Soon the malevolent entity passes from one person to the next like a contagious disease. Each possession manifests itself in a different way. One person may begin by mutilating himself/herself, another person may suffer a sort of gangrene infection. Eventually, they all turn into horrible, sadistic zombies.
Alvarez thankfully keeps the computer generated trickery to a minimum, choosing to rely instead on well-crafted practical effects. The make-up of this Evil Dead is utterly brilliant and sickening. As the infected kids begin to harm themselves and each other, we’re introduced to a graphic exercise in body horror. One girl attempts to hack her jaw off with a kitchen knife upon being infected, another infected individual attacks the group with a nailgun, one girl hacks off her diseased arm. Many of the scares harken back to the original trilogy, but they’re much more graphic and convincing.
On the whole, this Evil Dead is superior to the original trilogy from a purely technical point of view. The effects are amazing and the cast, which includes Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci, and Elizabeth Blackmore, is professional. However, the sickeningly convincing violence on screen is also fetishized.
Fede Alvarez’s picture is unsettling and relentless to the point of bordering on torture porn and that’s where I think this remake comes up short compared to the original trilogy. Yes, the original Evil Dead movies were cheaply produced B-flicks, but they were charming and contained much needed levity.
Alvarez isn’t as interested as Sam Raimi was in charming the audience. He wants to scare and sicken, and he easily accomplishes his mission. However, I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing as this remake quickly becomes something of an endurance contest. On the other hand, this film still accomplishes what it set out to do in the first place and that’s commendable. The result is an Evil Dead flick that’s faithful to its origin while remaining a standalone work of art in its own right. I suppose that makes this Evil Dead everything a proper remake should be.