In Sam Raimi’s wildly original, wildly influential The Evil Dead of 1981, five friends into the woods for a cabin getaway and couldn’t get away from the demons they accidentally summon from an ancient book. In his feature debut, Uruguay director Fede Alvarez retains that setup, minus the vacation. In his vision, the young men and women are there to help a drug-addicted pal (Jane Levy, Fun Size) go cold turkey.
That’s a terrific angle to introduce, leaving the viewer to wonder how much, if any, of what goes down is simply a side effect to a painful withdrawal process.
Or maybe there’s something to that strange volume they find in the rickety cabin’s basement (fruit cellar?). The book is wrapped in barbed wire on purpose. Despite the pages’ warnings not to read them, especially aloud, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci, Beginners) does, and suddenly, there’s a whole lot of possession going on. And when one is overtaken by the souls of Hell’s minions, he or she tends to do some crazy crap.
The fright elicited by this well-funded Evil Dead comes not from the all-too-easy jump scares, but the Cronenberg-ian body horror and the unknown variable that is the possessed. There’s no telling what they’ll do, to what lengths they’ll go, to how much damage they can wreak. The score by Roque Baños gets right to the heart of the matter, utilizing the unmistakable cry of a tornado siren to punctuate its theme, and the effect is unsettling.
Ditto the ace makeup and practical effects, so put aside fears that this reboot would go CGI. Although the deadites may float double-time, they appear as actual people, rather than some spectral image cooked up on a computer. The reality sells the illusion.
No Ash-level wisecracks exist in this telling; in fact, there’s no Ash, which Bruce Campbell played in Raimi’s trilogy. Depending upon the minute, the lead role varies between Levy and the usually smirk-prone Shiloh Fernandez (The East), who plays her estranged brother — yet another element to keep you on your toes.
With Raimi and Campbell overseeing the project as co-producers, all turned out very well, creatively. (The Sony Pictures Blu-ray’s extra features drive home how reluctant Campbell rightly was to allow a remake to exist, until Alvarez’s divergent take convinced him otherwise.) Dare I say it’s even bloodier than the original — a feat once thought not possible. Bravo, Alvarez, and may you get the chance to continue this wicked tale.
I suspect the movie will be the focus of many a teen sleepover for years to come, just as its unruly, soul-swallowing big brother was in the glory days of VHS. —Rod Lott