Review: Evil Dead (2013)

Directed by – Fede Alvarez
Written by – Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues
Based on The Evil Dead, written and directed by Sam Raimi
Starring – Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Elizabeth Blackmore, Jessica Lucas, Phoenix Connolly & Jim McLarty

Time for James to be a contrarian again…

Ok, so I’m no longer much of a fan of Sam Raimi’s seminal horror classic The Evil Dead. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why it is so well loved but for me its bizarre combination of horror and comedy didn’t work anywhere near as well as everyone suggests. In fact I’ve always thought that Army of Darkness was the best film in the series, precisely because it properly embraced the anarchy that the first two flirted with but never quite seemed to truly understand. Nevertheless, I have a general rule about remakes (they’re all shit, except for the odd few) so, despite my ambivalence to the original film, I began my viewing of Evil Dead with a due sense of exhaustion and dread.

Well… you know what, I thought it was alright. In decades to come, when The Evil Dead is still being praised as a classic of the genre, this remake will obviously have been long forgotten but, as a piece of generic but enjoyable horror cinema, I actually think Fede Alvarez’s take on the tale – which is much straighter than its original counterpart – is pretty damn good. Fair enough, I totally understand why a fan of the original might hate it – after all, it follows almost exactly the same story, albeit with some awful “emotional” nonsense thrown in to keep it modern, but lacks the anarchic charm of any of Raimi’s three films – but as a reimagining of The Evil Dead, I think it’s successful enough. After all, it’s not like it’s the first time The Evil Dead has been remade; Evil Dead II was a partial remake, and pretty much every “cabin in the woods” driven horror film (including, funnily enough, The Cabin in the Woods) owes a huge debt to Raimi’s 1981 film.

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I think what I like about Evil Dead is that it abandons the original’s comic sensibilities. I realise that this places me in a minority but I’ve never felt that Raimi mastered the horror/comedy combination anywhere near as well as he wanted to and, as such, I like that Evil Dead is just a straight-up horror film. Admittedly it isn’t remotely scary but, at just 90 minutes (which I still contend is the perfect length for any film) it beats along at a decent pace, and once the action kicks off it never really slows down. It takes a while to get going, and we’re forced to endure some terribly contrived exposition about why the five characters have come to a cabin in the woods (Tip for future filmmakers: it doesn’t matter why they’re there, that’s the beauty of it…) but once that’s out of the way, Evil Dead is surprisingly entertaining.

Perhaps I’m giving the film too much credit (I probably am), but I also think that the general lack of characterisation serves a purpose, even though there’s a chance that it might be unintentional. Like the original film, Evil Dead presents us with five characters – two men and three women – and dispatches of the women one-by-one before leaving the men to fight against whatever grotesque demon is trying to possess them. Also like the original, only two of the characters really get much of a backstory; in this case, it’s David (Fernandez; Red Riding Hood) and his sister Mia (Levy; Suburgatory). Mia is a crack addict who wants to go cold turkey (hence the trip to the cabin) while David is her brother who, for the past few years, has been what you might call “estranged”. The other three characters are interchangeable but, in the style of the classic horror film, that doesn’t matter one bit. They’re there for one reason and one reason only, and much of the fun is derived in waiting for their gory deaths / transformations.

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Fede Alvarez also deserves some credit for making his film gloriously nasty. Though he tries to modernise the original, he ensures that his version of the tale is full of all of the gore and vulgarity for which Raimi’s film is so well known. In a sense the visuals here are a bit disappointing because they’re so stylised and “Hollywood” but at least an attempt has been made to make the film as grotesque as possible. It does at times descend into torture porn esque stupidity, especially when one of the characters decides to chop her own arm off (to no avail, I might add) and there does seem to be a focus on “shocks” rather than genuine scares but if you just sit back and embrace the silliness, it can be pretty entertaining to watch.

Evil Dead is cheap, derivative and predictable but I genuinely enjoyed it far more than I was expecting to. It’s a different beast to Raimi’s trilogy and as far as I’m concerned that’s a good thing, though I fully accept that this is little more than a generic horror film that’ll be forgotten soon enough. Nevertheless, I liked Evil Dead; I thought that it was relatively well acted, competently directed and, ignoring some of the more melodramatic moments, nicely written. The final fifteen minutes are a total shambles and it’s obviously rubbish but for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I really did like it.

I guess my huge, schoolgirl crush on Shiloh Fernandez probably helped…