Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review: Evil Dead (Reboot)

Evil Dead is a wild, rollicking ride that should entertain newcomers and satisfy even hardcore fans of the original.

The Evil Dead remake by Fede Alverez had fans of the original skeptical from the start. After all, Raimi’s Evil Dead II, the film this remake is based on, was already a remake itself – of The Evil Dead, also made by Raimi a mere six years earlier. Evil Dead II was basically the same film as its predecessor, only with a slightly higher budget and not much more finesse. In any case, Raimi (somewhat unwittingly) stumbled onto a gold mine with his remake, and Evil Dead II became a campy cult classic with – to put it mildly – a devoted following.

I wouldn’t say that I’m one of those diehard fans, but I certainly do love and appreciate Evil Dead II, and I would have hated to see a remake that was nothing more than an uninspired retread of the original. But I think fans should rest assured: although Evil Dead (2013) clearly pays homage to the original, it is its own savage, terrifying animal. Gone is the absurd humor of Bruce Campbell and his cohorts, replaced with undiluted scares and the occasional touch of biting wit. (And from here on in, I’ll avoid comparing the two films, as I believe this one stands on its own and deserves to be treated as such.)

Mia (Jane Levy) plans on spending the weekend with her friends and brother (Shiloh Fernandez) in a remote cabin in the woods, “playing cold turkey” with her cocaine addiction. When they find a book sealed with barbed wire and the explicit instructions “DON’T READ OUT LOUD” scrawled on the pages, high school teacher Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), of course, does just that, unleashing an evil spirit that can possess whomever it wants.

Scares abound from the very beginning, many stemming from Jane Levy’s excellent performance, which is at turns sinister, menacing, and downright tormenting. Her transition from worn out drug user to tweaking to demonically possessed would suggest that this is not her first rodeo in the horror show (though it is). On the acting front, Lou Taylor Pucci is similarly good across the board. The other actors take a little more warming up. (Maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine, but I don’t think Shiloh Fernandez is, well… all that great. Just me?) In any case, they all seem to find their stride just as the movie finds its own.

This movie comes at you fast and hard. With the exception of a slight lull after the arresting opening, viewers are given hardly a moment to catch their breath between all the action and each gory set piece. Yes, the movie is gory – punishingly so. From a woman carving out a hunk of her cheek to another slicing her tongue in half with a box cutter, this is probably one of the goriest horror movies I’ve ever seen – and that is really saying something. Strangely enough, though, the gore didn’t bother me nearly as much I thought it would. Maybe that’s because the worst of it was perpetrated against the demon-possessed, people-turned-creatures that hardly looked human enough to sympathize with. Of course I had visceral reactions to things like the tongue-cutting (you can’t un-see that), but I didn’t find it nearly as upsetting as, say, the violence in the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake featuring Jessica Biel, where the brutality was wholly human-on-human and far too realistic for my taste.

The sound effects are another source of primal fear: the sound of a knife sawing on flesh, the rush of air from a nail gun, the queasy slip-slipping of a bloody tongue. It’s that nasty sense of anticipation, building our dread before we can even see what’s going on. And as soon as we do, there are more stunning (if repulsive) visuals being thrown at us than we can process. Mixed in are welcome moments of dry humor, making it a nonstop, exhilarating, even fun, spin.

Lastly, fans will be pleased that Evil Dead retains some of the best – or, at least, most notorious – bits from the original. The infamous “tree rape” in particular makes a harrowing appearance that will most likely baffle those who don't know the reference. The movie is also entirely CGI-free, a welcome change for a genre that all too often employs cheesy computer effects. The practical effects are, in my opinion, one of the things that made Raimi’s Evil Dead so endearing, and the practical effects in this remake are simply above and beyond.

All in all, I couldn’t rave more about this movie. It’s not the clever-fest that was last year’s The Cabin in the Woods, and it doesn’t really break any new ground, but it sets out to do exactly what it means to: freak you the hell out. Frankly, that’s all I ask for.

Final Rating (out of 5):