Is it possible for a movie to have daddy issues? That certainly seems to be the case for Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez’ remake of Sam Raimi’s low-budget camp-horror classic. This new version so desperately wants to be the original, and at the same time is just as desperate to distance itself from the earlier version and break new ground. In particular, Alvarez’ script pointedly sheds the low-budget camp aspects in order to produce “the most terrifying film you will ever experience”.
This doesn’t seem to be a pull quote. Stephen King called Raimi’s version “the most ferociously original horror film of the year”, which not only is more believable but also doesn’t come from the movie’s own marketing department. And with good reason: Raimi didn’t exactly have a lot to spend on marketing, so he actually had to make it good.
Even if Evil Dead went quote-shopping, though, it couldn’t be called the most original anything. This is a genre that is so mined out that it’s reached the level of commenting on how it keeps overtly commenting on how much it covertly comments on itself, and the only real originality we’ve seen in years is a movie that recontextualizes the entire genre.
So our story is nothing new: five young people (Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore) hole up in a creepy, ramshackle cabin in the woods. They find an evil book, ignore all the warnings, and read a passage from it. And then all Hell breaks loose. In Raimi’s version, that’s all you need: enough of a setup to start gleefully throwing around lots of gore and violence. It was clear how much fun they had making a silly B movie, and the audience could laugh and cringe along with it.
But here we’re supposed to be Serious — to take seriously a remake of a camp classic in a subgenre known primarily for how silly and formulaic it is — and I just can’t do it. The script brings in a Serious Backstory the characters trying to help one of their number et through withdrawal, and it waves its hands towards more Serious Backstory about a mentally ill mother. And it takes all this backstory Seriously, except it only really comes up sporadically when the action needs to be pointed in one direction or anther. Raimi had the good sense to know that anyone in the room to see this movie isn’t really in it for the moving narrative; things just happen because there is a demon possessing people and hey, why wouldn’t it go like that?
And yet while Alvarez this radical departure in tone from Raimi, the film is riddled with fanservice and references to the original, which mostly served to remind me how much more fun Raimi’s version was.
What we’re left with is more of an endurance test, along the lines of Saw or Hostel. The point seems to be to see how much abuse we can stand to watch just for the sake of watching it. It doesn’t serve any real story, and it isn’t mindless campy fun. The goal, remember, is “the most terrifying film you will ever experience”, and the means seem to be to do things we’ve already seen before — often in the original version — but bloodier and with the extra “realism” a higher budget can achieve. Sometimes it’s nothing more than the same bit remade and reused twice.
On top of that, more than a little of the violence here is disturbingly sexualized. Yeah, the tree attack is a direct quote from the original, but do we really need another rape scene?
For all my complaints, I must admit that Alvarez makes it look great. Eschewing CGI in favor of makeup and prosthetics, the gore is very effective. Alvarez shoots almost exclusively in uncomfortably-framed close-ups — a queasy effect that’s actually beneficial here — and minimizes the shakes in calmer scenes.
If all you’re looking for is gore and violence, then you’ll find plenty here, and it will be some of the best you’ve seen. The problem is that nobody seems to have a good answer for why we’re watching it in the first place.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.