A horror remake done right.
[This review was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Evil Dead.]
Evil Dead was going to be the shining gem of this year's SXSW just based on everything that it represents. Not only is it an official entry into the Evil Dead canon, it's headed by newcomers not only to the franchise, but to Hollywood films in general. Realistically, albeit unfairly, Evil Dead has a lot of hype working both for and against it. Was Fede Alvarez able to handle the pressure, or did he melt away in a claymation sequence because of it?
When Mia (Jane Levy) decides to go cold turkey from drug abuse, she asks for support from her friends to support her by staying a weekend at an old family cabin. Childhood friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) are joined by old friend and Mia's brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).
Tension remains between David and the rest of the group due to his inability to show up when he's needed. However, the seemingly abandoned cabin appears to have been used for some sort of cult activity. When Eric finds a book full of evil chants and horrific imagery, known to most as the Naturon de Monto, Mia's struggle against sobriety becomes an afterthought as each person struggles to stay alive.
Let me just go right out and say it: The hype is real. Evil Dead stands as proof that horror remakes can be done properly. Moving beyond the legendary status that the original film holds, this new Evil Dead film can stand alone as a truly great horror film. Terms like "reboot" or "remake" do fit this film, but they don't do this film justice. Rather, Evil Dead stands as a rebirth, both for the franchise, but for horror films in general.
However, that's not to say that there aren't nods and allusions to the original film. While the film closely follows the events of The Evil Dead, it takes these homages and cleverly spins them so that they feel fresh and interesting while still serving as bits of fanservice to the franchise fanatics. Alvarez and his writing partner, Rodo Sayagues, are fans themselves, and set out to make a film that would appeal to old and newcomers to the series.
They definitely hold The Evil Dead's influence on their sleeves, but are able to go to extreme levels that the original never could have, whether because of budgetary limits or technological deficiencies that existed 30 years ago. Alvarez was basically given full reign with the film, and his vision of a proper, modern day Evil Dead delivers. More interestingly is his decision to shy away from CGI, thus creating a more realistic tone for the film that other contemporary horror films lack. The film is bloody, brutal, gory, and everything you'd want from a film that carries the Evil Dead moniker.
The cast shine in their established roles/archetypes, which are the typical roles you'd find in every other horror film. However, the film's third act flips not only the established script, but what's essentially expected of an Evil Dead film. It's gutsy moves like this that truly showcase why Alvarez was hand-selected to bring the franchise to new audiences, despite his inexperience with Hollywood.
Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, and Sam Raimi all gave Alvarez and Sayagues their blessings, and their trust in them didn't go unfounded. Any fears you may have had about the film tainting the Evil Dead name can, and will, be alleviated.