In all honesty, had last year not brought us the long delayed, ultimately fantastic, "Cabin in the Woods," my reaction to the shockingly entertaining remake of "Evil Dead" might be a little more enthusiastic. The most fervent fans of any genre or film for that matter, are always going to be a tough crowd to please and when the film you're offering fans is a remake of one of the most beloved entries in the genre, not to mention a hallmark of truly independent filmmaking, the battle is all uphill. Enter Fede Alvarez, a writer/director from Uruguay who caught the eye of Rob Tapert with his sci-fi short and ended up being given the definition of a double-edged sword: you get to make a $17 million dollar horror film, but that horror film has to be the "Evil Dead" remake. To say there was doubt that the end result would be anything but horrible in the eyes of horror fans, including myself, is a tremendous understatement.
Let's get the bad out of the way, the script for "Evil Dead" is a portrait of mediocrity and at times, the cast takes it one step below that at times. To be perfectly just to Fede Alvarez and cast though, the original "Evil Dead" was really only satisfying on a visceral level, combined with knowledge of how low-budget and independent the production was; as great as Bruce Campbell went on to be, his performance in that film is best described as passable. Alvarez and company deserve credit for originality in putting a spin on the Ash character, which to be entirely truthful doesn't really exist in the film in one character and is instead split between at least two characters. Keep in mind, the wisecracking Ash we all remember didn't show up until the tonally opposite "Evil Dead 2" and this version of "Evil Dead" seeks to recapture the raw cruelty of its predecessor and amplify it.
The premise of the film is an outright painful experience, establishing the film's biggest character Mia (Jane Levy) as a heroin addict brought by her friends and brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez) to detox in a remote, decrepit family owned cabin. The audience is forced to sit through a sizable portion of poorly constructed dialogue and exposition for the sole purpose of establishing Mia as delusional, so that once the sinister stuff starts happening, she'll be dismissed as having withdrawal-induced hallucinations. Speaking of that sinister stuff, courtesy of the Natuorum Demonto (aka the Necronomicon), the character of Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci with the film's most shrill, unlikable performance), almost irrevocably killed the entire flow of the film, ignoring genre clichés from the evil book that two decades ago were acceptable, but now feel more than lazy and are in no way misinterpreted nostalgia. If you can tolerate the film's first act though, then things get very interesting.
Director Fede Alvarez has every right to be proud with the effects work on the film (the story is it's all practical with a few CGI touchups), and in the gore department the film earns high marks. The film is relentlessly brutal, although at some point, halfway through Alvarez just can't hold together the heartless script and the film becomes more of an endurance test until the fantastic third act. While the script is one part of the equation, Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci's performances nearly sink the film once again in the latter half, with Fernandez portraying one of the most ineffective leading men in any horror film. Thankfully, Jane Levy provides the film's few terrifying moments as the demonically infected Mia, in a role that is incredibly thankless given how mediocre a lot of what is intended to support it turns out to be. Levy gets an even greater chance to shine in the film's third act which honestly can't be discussed without spoiling what is still likely obvious to fans of the original film.
I'm thankful the remake/reimagining of "Evil Dead" wasn't a complete train wreck; I honestly expected a disaster of a film but walked away with a few distinct impressions. Fede Alvarez is a talented filmmaker and given more to work with (the script was his, but was given a polish by Diablo Cody and quite frankly it shows, negatively), I feel he's capable of generating a wholly pleasing film. Few modern horror films can claim ownership to the pure visceral tone that "Evil Dead" has and it's this very tone that keeps it together in its lowest moments. Sadly, "Evil Dead" just doesn't have much new to bring to the table, but fortunately offers enough to make it worth watching and in the end, is very much similar to the film it's attempting to recreate.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a gem of a visual presentation. Contrast levels are natural and consistent, making for darkly atmospheric scenes without a loss of detail. The colors are intense and have a great chance to shine in the crimson soaked finale, while detail levels stay firmly above average at a minimum.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 track is just a tad underwhelming in my book for a horror film that relies on atmosphere at times. The mix is firmly balanced and the surrounds are utilized effectively, however a bit more kick from the low-end would have been greatly appreciated. An English descriptive audio track is included as well as French and Spanish 5.1 tracks. English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
The extras consist of three short featurettes, "Making Life Difficult," focusing on the creation of the film and the toll it took on the actors, "Directing the Dead," which focuses on writer/director Fede Alvarez, and "Being Mia" highlighting the work Jane Levy put into becoming the evil version of her character.
"Evil Dead" is definitely notches above the average genre dreck offered year after year, and while it captures a lot of its predecessor nicely, being a remake, over three decades later, it can't fall back on ultra-low budget independent filmmaking techniques as excuses for why it comes up short in the narrative category. Genre fans need to come for the terror (and there are a few genuinely great moments) and Jane Levy's performance (post first act), but be prepared to endure a disposable cast and often-nonsensical script. Rent It.