Fanboys, you have nothing to be afraid of. Maybe I should rephrase that, since as a horror movie, "Evil Dead" has to plenty of squirm-inducing, cringe-worthy material that will likely have even some of the thicker-skinned gorehounds watching the movie through their fingers.
When it comes to the legacy of the beloved low-budget cult classic "The Evil Dead," however, there is no reason to be scared. Director Fede Alvarez delivers a fun, twisted freak-out that has gallons of blood and respect for its predecessors – even to a fault.
The premise is pretty standard horror material: A band of attractive twentysomethings, led by David (Shiloh Fernandez, previously seen in "Red Riding Hood") head out to spend some time in an isolated cabin in the woods. Their motives are actually more interesting than you’d expect. David’s sister Mia (Jane Levy, an above average scream queen) is attempting to quit drugs cold turkey.
Her friends and family – including the aggressively concerned Olivia (Jessica Lucas, "Cloverfield"), Olivia’s quirky bearded teacher boyfriend Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and David’s bland girlfriend (Elizabeth Blackmore, who is given nothing to do until it gets to limb-slicing time) – refuse to let this latest attempt to fail, so they vow not to let Mia leave. It’s a hard promise to keep, especially after they discover a mysterious book filled with demonic unpleasantries, a basement filled with dead animals and Mia starts screaming about seeing something in the woods.
No, poor Mia, those aren’t withdrawal-related hallucinations (a horror movie with some nuance might have done something with this intriguing plotline, but blood and gore is the name of the game in Alvarez’s film). It’s an evil spirit, raised by reading the Book of the Dead – didn’t anyone teach these kids not to read things that look like the devil’s grade school doodle book … especially if it comes wrapped in barbed wire and explicitly says "don’t read this?" – and after a grim encounter with a tree in the woods, it possesses Mia and wreaks all kinds of bloody, horrid chaos back at the cabin.
And oh dear, it is the flurry of vicious mayhem to end all flurries of vicious mayhem (well, "Dead Alive" probably would have something to say about that). Arms are sawed, nail guns are shot into places where nails should not go, tongues and faces are gruesomely cut, and I’m probably leaving some stuff out. It’s a gnarly festival of human ketchup, and Alvarez thankfully goes old school, using all sorts of practical effects to gloriously gory effect.
Despite all the gore and the poster’s bold statement that it will be "the most terrifying film you will ever experience," "Evil Dead" isn’t particularly scary. Besides one well-crafted riverside jolt, most of the traditional scares are predictable and tired, as though the movie put them in out of obligation. Then again, I don’t think that’s what Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues are going for (Diablo Cody of "Juno" game also did an uncredited revision on the script).
Instead, this new version is about gleefully summoning all the brutal, messed-up craziness it can muster, and Alvarez is more than willing to supply. He keeps the film moving with an energetic zip while never forgetting to build a little tension along the way so the gore actually means something. The early parts of the movie even have an eerie calm before the crap hits the fan, and it turns into blood-soaked, shocked giggle-inducing insanity.
"Evil Dead" definitely meets its carnage quota, but if there’s one thing it lacks, it’s some more personality to call its own. When it’s not bleeding (which is rare), it feels fairly routine and bland. There’s not much in the way of humor or personal touches, and there are even fewer characters, outside of the sardonic Pucci, who serves as the only memorable member in our quintet of dumb future victims. Still, it takes until the halfway mark for that side of the character to show up.
Instead, the movie is packed with nods to Sam Raimi’s originals, from "The Classic" still resting by the cabin to a chainsaw making a dramatic, winking cameo. These little Easter eggs are cute and cleverly integrated into the story, but the film leans so heavily on these little references and nostalgic reminders of "man, wasn’t ‘The Evil Dead’ awesome?" for its personality that it never seems to really come into its own.
The weight of its sense of loyalty makes "Evil Dead" sometimes come off as simply fan service (especially after the clip at the end of the credits, which is fanboy pandering at its most shameless and desperate), but even so, it’s a wildly entertaining dose of gore-gasmic fan service. Alvarez and company showed plenty of guts on the screen; now that they’ve already announced a sequel, we’ll see if they have the guts to step out a bit more from their predecessor’s intimidating shadow.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.