Evil Dead (2013)

It was with much trepidation that I entered this retread of The Evil Dead, a film so close to my heart that I have the protagonist’s face and chainsaw permanently etched into my left arm. The Evil Dead was one of the properties primed for remaking as soon as the trend took hold. Fans eased up on the hate pedal when the creative forces behind the original – director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell - announced their interest and involvement. For years nothing came of it until, much like the deadites themselves, it resurfaced and, boy, had it gotten ugly. The first few images released piqued the interest of the entire horror community, followed by trailers that showed us all that this isn’t your grandpappy’s Evil Dead. Most of us were reeling, could this actually be a worthy remake of such a beloved genre classic?

The answer, it seems, is yes.

Careening between classic Raimi-esque splatter, Japanese ghost story and modern possession horror visuals, Evil Dead does almost exactly what you would expect it to do. It effectively retells the story of the five doomed friends on a trip to a cabin in a fresh and modern way. Writers Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues inject some new emotion and urgency – as well as an interesting way of keeping them in the cabin long after I would have legged it – through the addition of one of the characters trying to kick a drug habit. All the while, it shares some of the sensibilities of its source, mixing gleeful splatter and hints of camp with a sort of sprawling tone strokes you one minute, only to slap you the next that made the original flick so ubiquitous.

First-timer Fede Alvarez has crafted a tight, dark picture that powers through its 90 minute running time at a breakneck pace. Shot in the washed-out horror palette of pale blues and grays that we’ve come to expect (and lament) of the genre, Alvarez rides a line between modern film-making standards and the rough-around-the-edges proto-modern techniques that Sam Raimi himself developed during production of the original Evil Dead. One character in particular feels like they have been transported wholesale from the 1981 film as he seems to be shot almost entirely using Raimi‘s angular approach. This works especially well for those familiar with the source, because it allows the filmmakers to mess with us. They have the ability to use what we think we know as a chopping block for shock when things deviate from our comfort zone.

It’s not all roses though, as big chunks of the performances are pitched at a weird level. This exacerbates some of the many clunky dialogue sections into sounding like throbbing tubes of awkward. It almost felt like late 80′s horror performances, aiming for sincere but just pushing through into a land beyond realism. To be fair, at some points it felt intentional so maybe it was the result of a conversation between actors and director in which they decided to throw some ‘classic’ acting styles into the mix.

Evil Dead plays with the classic themes in a fun way, but doesn’t require you to be a fan in order to enjoy it. Fans of the originals should find fun in seeing how familiar moments are slotted in with new contexts and fresh outcomes. Sure, there are moments of unnecessary fan service – the post-credit stinger is pointless. It feels like a last ditch attempt to win over those who consider The Evil Dead to be one of their sacred cows – but mostly, the nods are respectful and intentionally smirk-inducing.

In a sea of lukewarm remakes that dilute the effectiveness of their respective originals just to satisfy money hungry execs grubbing around in the PG-13 sandpit in the hopes of a few extra dollars, this movie is a breath of fresh air. It’s a strong 18 certificate complete with practical effects, for the most part. It’s everything that horror fans say that they want, until they get it. The gore is always redder on the other side, I guess.

Evil Dead won’t please everyone; it lacks the kitschy home-assembled charm of the original but if you check your baggage at the box office, you might just be surprised by what you find in those woods.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

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