"I can smell your filthy soul."
Let me get this out of the way, right off the bat: There are some sacred cows for me in the world of cinema. Films that I consider to be holy and above being remade. Sam Raimi's Evil Dead is not one of those films. I have no great attachment to the original film, and I was not up in arms over the proposed remake when it was announced. I feel the need to qualify this fact because I am about to tear this remake to shreds, and I don't want anyone reading this to think that I have some sort of personal animus towards the film based on some affinity for the original.
For the record, I do enjoy the original Evil Dead trilogy to an extent. I think that the films got better each time out of the gate, with Army of Darkness being my favorite. The main thing that sets those films apart from most of the horror movies being made in this day and age is that they have a true sense of levity to them. They're a wonderful mixture of comedy & horror, and while not all horror films need to combine laughter into the mix, when you're being asked to buy into a ridiculous premise like demonic possession via an ancient book of the dead & witchcraft rituals, it certainly helps.
The new film follows the same basic premise as the original, five friends travel to a remote cabin in the woods, find a "book of the dead," and find themselves possessed by a demon. In an attempt to answer the age old adage of "why don't they just leave," the writers added a subplot wherein one of the girls is there to quit her heroin habit, so the others are not convinced by her repeated attempts to try and escape.
The addict in question is Mia (Jane Levy), and her companions are her estranged brother & Ash stand-in David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend (Elizabeth Blackmore), their registered nurse friend Olivia (Jessica Lucas) & English teacher turned resident book of the dead expert Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). I have to admit that the way they dealt with the exposition and lengthy backstory had me hooked for the first ten minutes or so. I was honestly impressed by how well they conveyed a lot of information with very little dialogue. Kudos to the screenwriters for managing to hash together a great first act.
Things unfortunately go in the toilet pretty soon after that, and the film's dead serious tone helped to sink the movie almost immediately. One of the most infamous scenes in the original is the "rape tree," which is handled here in the most dire of ways. It was an immediate indicator that the film was not looking to have any fun with its premise, but instead was focused on attempting to legitimately scare its audience with obviously comedic premises.
Director Fede Alvarez has a vivid imagination and certainly comes up with some of the more interesting ways to pile on the blood and guts I've seen in a long time, but he's not terribly clever. The height of his cleverness is on display when Eric, who looks like the prototypical version of Jesus, is attacked with a nail gun and shot through the palms. This is as clever as the director and/or writers were willing to get, and that's ultimately disappointing.
It's hard to criticize the performances in a film like this since all of the actors were being called upon to essentially portray screaming ninnies with ridiculous lapses in common sense. They did that well enough, I would have just liked to see some character development beyond the first ten minutes of the film. They were all perfectly serviceable, but lacked any sort of depth to make you care about them when they're systematically slaughtered.
Another big issue I had was the way the film pushed the bounds of plausibility. I know how categorically absurd it is for me to say that about a film like this, but if I'm playing along with the filmmakers and taking all of this seriously, their characters withstand tremendous amounts of bodily damage and blood loss without dying. And anyone who's seen 127 Hours knows that it's no easy feat to separate your arm from your body, yet no less than two characters in this film do it as if they're cutting the tag off a new shirt.
My issues with Evil Dead can be summed up like this: It's fine to do a humorless remake of a film that had a sense of humor, but don't insist on paying homage to the original every chance you get. This is a dour film with no sense of irony, fun or originality. If the people who made it had their wits about them, they might have tried to lighten the mood a bit. I would have loved this film had it had a sense of humor about what it was, but as it stands now, it's just a violent mish-mash of nonsensical premises presented in the most serious manner imaginable, and if that concept frightens you, you're already more scared than this dreck is going to make you in its entire ninety minute running time.
GO Rating: 0.5/5
[Photos via Box Office Mojo]