Sam Raimi’s 1981 picture The Evil Dead is rightly regarded as a classic of the horror genre, a pitch perfect, no-budget thrill ride suffused with terror yet tinged with knowing humour. Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is less a remake or sequel and more of homage to Raimi’s pioneering spirit and in fact to horror as a whole. Given the nature of this beast it is wholly derivative, yet the fact that it still delivers what feels like a fresh take on a genre that has veered towards either torture or the paranormal in recent years is welcome and in these meta, post The Cabin in the Woods times that is an impressive feat in itself.
Ostensibly, Evil Dead’s premise closely matches Raimi’s original, as five friends descend on a remote and perfectly creepy cabin in the woods. But this is no mere holiday, as lead protagonist Mia (a superb Jane Levy) is a recovering drug addict, determined to go cold turkey in the most isolated of locations. In tow are concerned brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), comic relief and glutton for punishment Eric (a well realised Lou David Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas).
A brutally intense prologue hints that things aren’t going to go well for our gang, lending proceedings an ominous and overbearing sense of foreboding from the off. Alvarez too shows his hand early, gifting his audience the first of many neat nods to the horror canon with a hat tip to The Shining as an extended aerial shot follows our cortege to their final destination.
With a rickety cabin nestled in haunting woodland playing host to Mia et al, it’s not long before we’re introduced to many of the horror tropes that Joss Whedon so deliciously mocked and honoured in equal measure in The Cabin in the Woods. Present and correct are a creepy cellar that seems oh so inviting and a mysterious book wrapped in barbed wire that couldn’t scream danger any louder.
With Mia swiftly descending into drug withdrawal, Eric soon takes it upon himself to investigate the book and inadvertently brings forth all manner of evil upon them. What transpires is as horrifying as one might expect as an ever more possessed Mia, by way of the brutal and infamous tree rape of Raimi’s original, unleashes increasingly bloody pain upon them all.
It’s veritable nightmare fuel and yet it never seems as scary or imposing as it should. There’s a definite sense that it suffers in comparison to Raimi’s bold opus, which is an unfair load to burden Alvarez’s picture with. Where it differs most is in tone, as whilst The Evil Dead has a very mischievous streak running through it, Evil Dead plays things arrow straight, despite Diablo Cody’s obvious attempts to lend the screenplay a more playful edge.
Her influence is most notably felt in Eric, the harbinger of everything that unfolds and who comes in for some of the most severe form of demonic punishment. His wry observation that everything is most definitely not fine is the slyest line in the film and it is he who raises the one or two smiles that are sparsely afforded along the way.
As matters viscerally unfurl, Alvarez tips a wink to horror giants The Exorcist, Braindead and Carrie and even to Final Destination 2 amongst others and it’s a joy to attempt to pick up on the numerous influences that have inspired his work. Of course it is Raimi, who produces here, that Alvarez reserves the most respect for and he makes sure to honour everything that made The Evil Dead such a ground-breaking picture, never veering to far from his winning formula. That said, there’s enough here to ensure that Evil Dead feels very much like its own film.
Any addition to the series was always going to be greeted with anticipation and scepticism, so it comes as a relief that Evil Dead more than deserves its place alongside what has come before. At its heart, this is a gory, good old-fashioned slice of schlock horror that whilst imitative is far stronger than the majority of its horror contemporaries and for that alone Alvarez should be applauded.
(originally featured at criticsnotebook.com on 16/03/13)