Last year, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s gloriously meta The Cabin in the Woods came along and saved a slumping Winter/Spring season from the January through April movie doldrums. In 2013, it’s Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell to the rescue — and yes, another forest-bound cottage is involved. As the original masterminds behind the 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead, the trio have allowed said scary movie sacred cow to be remade, and the results are all a horror fan could hope for. Darker, more serious, and just as violence as the first, this new take on the Necronomicon and the Deadite demons it raises does both the original, and a new generation of fright buffs, more than enough justice.
Mia (Jane Levy) is having a hard time dealing with the death of her crazy mother. Abandoned by her older brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), she has turned to drugs. Hoping to kick her habit once and for all, she attends a kind of intervention/drying out located in the family’s rundown shack in the middle of nowhere. With the help of said sibling, his new girlfriend (Elizabeth Blackmore) and best friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas), she plans on going cold turkey and breaking her addictions once and for all. During their first night in the cabin, the gang uncovers something sickening in the basement. Then Eric opens up a forbidden book, reading passages he shouldn’t. Before long, Mia is possessed by more than a need for dope — and the blood, and body parts, start piling up.
With just enough nods to the previous franchise to make devotees happy and an unconscionable amount of gore, first time feature filmmaker Fede Alvarez proves that Raimi and his partners picked the right man for the job. His take on the Evil Dead dynamic is ruthless, spellbinding, and strangely sympathetic. By the time most of the cast is covered in gallons of grue, we have come to care for these well meaning misfits. This is especially true of Mia, our heroine, and Eric, the accidental antagonist who spends the next 90 minutes paying for his incantation indiscretion. As the special effects up the ick ante, we actually forget Raimi’s original, ready to take this ride as far as the new director can push it.
And push it he does. From a nail gun attack that’s just plain brutal to acts of self-mutilation that are just astonishing, Evil Dead remembers why we fell in love with the first film. Unlike the mainstream horror movies of the time, the 1981 splatter epic pushed the boundaries of the genre. While few will find this update as groundbreaking, they will definitely enjoy the dedication to ample arterial spray. Alvarez adds his own tweaks as well, maneuvering the camera and setting scenes in ways that up the suspense and the feeling of dread. Raimi may have set the stage for such excesses, but this remake finds a fresh way to revisit them.
Going from a slowburn to a sprint in 90 amazing minutes and guaranteed to divide the Raimaniacs of the world, Evil Dead defies expectations as its lays claim to a legacy few thought it could compete with. It may not be the return of Ash that everyone wants, but in terms of taking an honored original and reimagining it for a post-millennial audience, this remake rocks. Let’s see Whedon and Goddard top that.