SXSW Film Review – Evil Dead
The visceral reaction was understandable when the news broke that an Evil Dead reboot was in the works. After all, it’s a beloved franchise, and most remakes in that context have received tepid responses at best. But with support from the original team of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert, I was willing to withhold my skepticism long enough to check out the final product. This made for a pleasant surprise in many ways, but in the end did little to address my fundamental problems with the film.
The story of the new Evil Dead follows a group of friends who head to a cabin the woods with the hopes of helping Mia (Jane Levy) detox from a life-threatening drug addiction. After finding the “Book of the Dead” and awakening some demons, all of their lives are in jeopardy. The story of fighting demons in a cabin in the woods is hardly a novel concept, in part due to the success of the original chapter of the franchise. But the real problem heading into this film has always been that the Evil Dead franchise is inextricably tied to the character of Ash (Bruce Campbell).
It is fair to say that the original Evil Dead series did start out with a successful horror vibe, but even still, the franchise was a hit because of the charisma of Bruce Campbell. His character was what made the movie compelling; everything else was just window dressing. The revelation that not only was Bruce Campbell not going to be in the remake, nor was there going to be a true “Ash” character, had me on alert, and even after having seen the end result, I don’t feel satisfied with the resolution to this problem. The new film works, but I’m not sure it distinguishes itself within its own universe.
The other major concern for the remake was director Fede Alvarez, who was making this feature debut, coming off of a successful stretch of directing short films. Those concerns are quickly alleviated, as the film looks very slick and polished; in fact, in a lot of ways, it feels closer to the wave of Michael-Bay-produced horror remakes than the original Evil Dead. That isn’t necessarily a fair comparison, since Sam Raimi didn’t have the same resources at his disposal when he directed the original, but it does have a bit of a glossiness to it, from the stylized look to the cast full of sexy young stars—it is actually a bit off-putting. While story isn’t a retelling of the same story from the original, it does have plenty of homages to the original films in terms of content, stylistic choices, and reaching for the same thematic elements.
In the context of the horror genre, the movie is fairly successful in hitting the notes that you would want. There are a number of scare moments, there is an extreme amount of blood and gore (perhaps one of the bloodiest films I’ve ever seen), and there is an immense amount of violence (so much so that it is kind of amazing that the film was able to achieve an R rating with the theatrical cut). Thankfully, there is a nice amount of comedic relief provided to help temper the intense and graphic violence that is almost unrelenting.
Despite having Jane Levy as the “lead” character, the true star of the movie is Lou Taylor Pucci. Having already earned praise with his work in films such as Thumbsucker, he is clearly the scene stealer here. Providing the core of the comedic elements while truly embodying his character, he is well on track to making himself a household name. The rest of the cast are more or less satisfactory, with everyone holding their own, but generally failing to distinguish themselves within the history of horror film performances.
The biggest problem is that the movie ignores the classic notion of the hero’s journey. Most notably in horror movies, you need a hero, someone to root for against the malevolent forces. Usually this is someone who is completely unprepared but rises to the occasion. Here, it feels like a bit of a cop-out, as the twist at the end feels like they just had an end point from the moment they started writing the screenplay and sort of hacked together a way of getting there. The end results don’t feel earned; you don’t feel as empathetic with the hero because you haven’t experienced the pain along with them.
I’m not going to say the new Evil Dead is a failure, because it is a fairly entertaining ride. I just wish that ride was a little more consistent throughout and had a different name. Calling it Evil Dead probably will help it at the box office, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We’ll see if the rest of the “trilogy” can fix these issues.
Final Grade: B+
Also, be sure to check out our interview with actor Lou Taylor Pucci.