In 1981, director Sam Raimi and a crew of amateur filmmakers and actors created The Evil Dead, which has since gone on to be a cult classic. It spawned a goofier remake/sequel, a genuine sequel, and now a remake. Watching the original film now is a bit of a funny experience, as the incredibly low budget and rawness of talent filled it with unintentional laughs and a ton of energy. The remake — produced by many of the people who worked on the first one — is a straight-up horror film and likely what was intended by the filmmakers over three decades earlier.
You know the story, or at least you should by now. A bunch of teenagers head to a cabin in the woods, one of them unleashes a demon by reading from the Book of the Dead — and not the cool one from The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption — and then the demon tries to find ways to kill them all. Blood, gore, vomit, and a ton of other fluids get spilled on the actors, limbs are cut or ripped off, bodies are inhabited by an evil spirit, and a good time is had by all … of the audience members, who enjoy seeing these characters put through a living hell for some reason. That’s the hope, anyway.
If you were to ask me the names of the characters, I don’t think I’d be able to tell you who they are. I could look it up, but then so can you. There are three girls and two boys, and there are relationships between them. Two are siblings, two are friends, and the others are significant others. One of them is trying to fix her heroin addiction by cutting it out cold turkey and holding up in the cabin, while the rest are here for moral support. Nobody planned on what happened next.
Assuming you haven’t seen The Evil Dead or any of the other numerous “Cabin in the Woods” movies — including Cabin in the Woods — you’ll find a lot to like about this Evil Dead remake. It has buckets of blood, a few gross-out scenes, a decent sense of atmosphere, and a couple of genuine scares. It moves at a decent pace — after the first 20 minutes the rest of the film is in fight-the-demon-and-survive mode — and it will feel new and fresh to you.
The problem comes from it not feeling anywhere near fresh if you’ve seen more than a couple of these before. The Evil Dead was released more than 30 years earlier and back then actually was a somewhat new idea. We hadn’t seen dozens of films using the same basic premise. Fast forward to 2013 and we have. Making a straight-faced horror movie about a group of teenagers being terrorized in a cabin in the woods from which they cannot escape isn’t a novel idea anymore; it has become a cliché.
The film, as a result, becomes predictable. It’s easy to see exactly which direction it’s going to take at every turn, and even the few twists — they’re more like slight misdirections — are incredibly easy to figure out. There are a couple of fan-service nods to the original, including a guessing game in regard to who will become the new “Ash,” but most of the material here is too easy. It’s not creative and it’s missing an energetic spark.
The characters are also quite bland and while you won’t have any trouble telling them apart — hair color helps here — you will struggle to remember names, who’s dating whom, and why they’re all so annoying. Granted, strong characters aren’t essential to a film like this one, but when it can’t hold an audience’s attention with its scares and kills, they wouldn’t hurt.
Perhaps one might look to the numerous points when director Fede Alvarez throws in a nod to the original two films, or just directly takes a scene or two and inaudibly says “remember that?” There are a few moments that are ripped straight from The Evil Dead or Evil Dead 2. Sometimes, it’s just a prop or a line of dialogue. If you are a fan of Raimi’s trilogy, you’ll get something out of the film in this aspect, but you’re also likely going to wind up bored for a good chunk of it. The film isn’t bad or incompetent, but it’s just another “cabin in the woods” movie that can’t be saved by references to its predecessors.
The only actor who puts in genuinely good work is Jane Levy, whose Mia — I looked it up — goes through several transformations throughout the film. Levy does a good job with all of them. Perhaps even more impressive is the crew doing all the makeup and practical effects; they’re the real stars of the film. Evil Dead looks great and it did seem like most of it was done without the help of CGI, which is usually something to praise, and I suppose keeps it in the spirit of the original.
Evil Dead isn’t a bad movie but it’s not as inspired, creative, or energetic as the original. As a result, it will bore audiences who have seen more than a couple of these “cabin in the woods” films before. If you haven’t, and you’re looking for a modern introduction to the sub-genre, this isn’t a bad way to start. It has a strong sense of atmosphere, a couple of good scares, lots of gross-out moments, and — for fans only — references and nods to the original that will make you smile. I wish it was more enjoyable, but it’ll do the job for most people out there.