Evil Dead REVIEW

Evil Dead film review

Mia took cosplay WAY too seriously.

Release Date: 19 April 2013
18 | 90 minutes
Fede Alvarez
Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore

This 30-years-later Evil Dead remake might not be “the most terrifying film you will ever experience”, as the poster boldly claims, but there’s a good chance it could be the bloodiest.

Once the Necronomicon’s demonic force starts its reign of terror in and around that familar cabin, it’s a relentlessly brutal experience. Limbs are detached or deformed with alarming frequency, simple cuts look sickeningly graphic thanks to some magnificently grimy make-up work, and the world’s most iconic chainsaw adds one of the most striking and memorable kills in movie history to its already-impressive résumé. By the end it’s literally raining blood.

It’s genuinely skin-crawling stuff. If you have an aversion to the following, either give Evil Dead a miss, or be prepared to hide behind your hands: needles, nail guns, Stanley knives, sharp objects near eyes, sharp objects near tongues and, of course, abusive branches…

Naturally, the film owes a significant debt to Sam Raimi’s infamous original video nasty (Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell all serve as producers) but, for the most part, it does its own, very different, thing. Take the attention-grabbing pre-titles sequence, which puts a cheeky twist on hillbilly-horror expectations to satisfying effect, but is set years earlier than the rest of the film and features none of the main characters. For better or worse, there’s also no Ash. The closest approximation is Shiloh Fernandez’s largely-impotent “hero” David, but it’s David’s sister, Mia (Jane Levy) who walks away with all the plaudits.

In a dual role, she plays the living embodiment of the demonic entity and one of five, partially estranged twentysomethings who stay in Mia and David’s family cabin. But not for sexy times, as convention would dictate; their foggy-forest mission is to get Mia off drugs with a cold turkey getaway.

Mia’s addiction, and the way she plays on her friend’s emotions, is one of the most successful aspects of this reimagining. It elegantly mirrors the way Deadites will manipulate their victims by reassuming their former identity, and makes the “getting to know you” opening act, typically a slog even in some of the very best horror films, into something new and intriguing. The importance of the addiction subplot becomes less and less significant as the story progresses, but it does a better job of giving the characters convincing motivation than Raimi’s original.

What the film can’t match its predecessor for is charisma. It’s exhilarating, yes, but Evil Dead is a remarkably charmless film. The whole thing is played deathly straight, though there are moments where you will laugh, either to alleviate tension after witnessing another horrifying act of bodily mutilation or at a slightly dopey line of dialogue. It sprinkles familiar moments and imagery from the first two films throughout in a kind of greatest hits mix, but they only serve to remind you that for the most part it doesn’t feel like an Evil Dead film.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s admirable that this remake should adopt such a disparate approach, but in many ways the weight of expectation that title brings with it is the biggest problem. It’s very much a film of its time, with a dingy, Texas Chainsaw-remake aesthetic and dialogue which consists largely of snark and swears. Alvarez can’t come close to Raimi’s superior visual stylings, either. There are occasional moments of flair: a disorientating inverted shot set high above the trees impresses. But an homage to Evil Dead 2’s “tooling up” sequence has no punch, a tree attack none of the kinetic impact, and the POV shots of the evil force hover high in the air making it all too obvious that it’s a camera on a contraption rather than some inhuman entity stalking the surface of the Earth. The Evil Dead reinvented the look of horror cinema; Evil Dead is entirely unadventurous in this regard.

Another problem is that the film exists in a post-Cabin In The Woods horror landscape. After the genre was so successfully deconstructed by Whedon and co it feels odd to watch a film where we’re meant to take it all seriously again. For the most part, the characters act infuriatingly dumb. One of them reads from the Necronomicon despite there being warnings emblazoned across its pages IN BLOOD not to, while another ventures into the basement well after the point any sane person would even consider doing so. They also occupy familiar archetypes (damaged student, handsome outsider, his hot girlfriend, compassionate nurse, bespectacled teacher) although – with the exception of one female character, who serves no other purpose than to die in a particularly gruesome way – they’re likeable enough to endear you to their plight.

If it’s slowly building tension you’re after, look elsewhere. Jump scares are the order of the day. Despite some stand-out moments, the film saves the best for last with a bravura, full-throttle final 15 minutes that will have you itching to stand up and applaud. The prosthetics and make-up do a good job of getting under your skin, too. Rather than the instant transformations of the past, characters physically mutilate themselves in increasingly unsettling ways. It’s effective, but the odd CG enhancement fails to convince and often works to take you out of the moment.

Despite daring to reimagine one of horror cinema’s last few sacred cows, Evil Dead is much better than you might expect. Unlike Raimi’s classic original, it won’t be remembered in 30 years time, but it is amongst the best horror remakes of the last decade.

Jordan Farley

Read more about Evil Dead in SFX issue 233, on sale now.
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