I was going to try really hard to be good and not include spoilers, but I failed miserably. The whole middle section is spoilerific. You’ve officially been warned.
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Lou Taylor Pucci
Five people meet at a remote cabin in an effort to help Mia (Levy) detox from her heroin addiction. Her estranged brother David (Fernandez), his girlfriend Natalie, close friend and registered nurse Olivia (Lucas), and David’s former best friend Eric (Pucci) have all come together to support Mia’s effort to get clean, but Olivia and Eric have done this before and insist that they will not let her leave – no matter what happens. The family cabin seems like it was broken into by rowdy teenagers, but a horrible smell seems to indicate something much more serious. When they decide to investigate the cellar, they discover the cabin’s terrible secret and something that has the potential to unleash hell on Earth.
When I heard about plans for a remake, my reaction was an instant and violent “Hell no!”, but I learned that Raimi and Campbell were heavily involved and I decided to give it a chance. The original Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 are among my very favorite horror films and any chance of my being objective flew out the window in the first five minutes of the remake. I think I can safely say without spoiling the film that I liked the first version better and if you are a serious fan of the original, you definitely will too. The effects in the new version are done very well and there are a lot of intensely gory scenes, but it’s not especially scary and the overall experience is not as good, especially not for a diehard fan. There are several homages to the source material, including camera work and props, that will make your fanboy or fangirl heart giddy, though. These and a small post-credits scene were enough to make it worth seeing in the theaters for me!
If you somehow haven’t seen the original Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2, I would absolutely recommend watching the new version first and then watching Raimi’s 1981 and 1987 versions. You’ll understand what Raimi and Campbell were trying to do effects-wise and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the camp of the original and its hilarious initial remake after seeing the more straight forward gorefest that is Evil Dead (2013). [For a well-written and very fair review of the new film, go here.]
The biggest difference between the new Evil Dead and the originals is the significant lack of humor. There are a few small flickers of lighter moments, but the overall tone is very different. Instead of hoping for a cheap-but-fun vacation, this group of five people has come to the cabin for a specific and very serious purpose. There’s a heady back story set up for David and Mia involving drug addiction, abandonment, and a mentally ill mother, and ostensibly, it’s there to explain why the group refuses to leave until it’s too late and why they don’t believe Mia when she starts to see and experience otherworldly phenomena, but it didn’t feel any more effective than just having the bridge washed out by heavy rains.
But the story was never what made the original great, and it doesn’t the new version any favors either. A lot of remakes and sequels tack on a tag line to differentiate themselves from the original (this one just drops “The”). The new version could have easily been called Evil Dead: What Happens When the 5 Stupidest People on Earth Go to a Cabin. A registered nurse who insists she can give a detoxing patient the same kind of care in a dirty, barely inhabitable cabin that she’d receive in a hospital? A teacher who disregards explicit warnings not to read or write the words in a very suspicious looking book about witchcraft and demon worship? A guy who repeatedly refuses to kill his sister, his girlfriend, and his friend even after it’s clear that they’re hella possessed? A girl who still goes into the dark cellar when called by the crazy possessed chick, even though that girl just puked up buckets of blood on their friend AND there were charred, burned cats hanging from the ceiling?! I call “No way”. In the original, Ash tries to take Cheryl back to town immediately after she’s attacked by the woods and is stopped by the washed out bridge, but these idiots wait until Mia has been attacked, the dog is brutally killed, and Mia scalds herself in the shower while simultaneously setting the bathroom on fire. Ash is pretty clueless and often hesitates in the original, but manages to man up just in time to save himself from the Deadites, something that’s not afforded to the new protagonist David. Instead, it’s the improbably resurrected and cured Mia that gets the final badass showdown. (I was really hoping for a “Yo She-Bitch, let’s go!” call back here, but no dice.)
Everyone other than Levi and Pucci are pretty forgettable and not terribly likeable. Levy has the most demanding role and she is nearly unrecognizable if you know her as Tessa on “Suburgatory”. She does a great job as a Deadite, no doubt helped by the awesome and increasingly grisly makeup. Pucci delivers the film’s few laughs and is arguably the smartest character in the bunch, even if he did start this whole thing. In a movie rife with stupidity, his common sense stands out and makes the audience root for him to survive over everyone else, which makes his eventual death that much more poignant. The same can’t be said for David, who did everything in his power to get himself killed and didn’t . . . until he blew himself up. And no one in the film is as charismatic or likeable as Bruce Campbell (but then, who is really?).
The special effects are the real stars and the entire reason to see this movie at all. Other than a bit of cleanup CGI, they are all practical effects and they’re very well done. Levy’s makeup and prosthetics in particular were wonderful, and I loved that the used some of the voice work from the original to tie it together.
Raimi and Campbell decided to produce the new Evil Dead to show off the kind of effects they wanted to include in the original (but couldn’t because of budget restraints), and if you see it in that spirit, it’s worth a trip to the theater. If you’re a gorehound, you’ll love all the blood and guts, but if you’re looking for genuine scares, it doesn’t have many too offer. Alvarez’s version is stylish and very technically well made, but it just can’t live up to the creativity and sense of fun delivered by the original trilogy of films.