Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is most certainly a remake done right. It takes elements from one of horror’s favorite franchises and reinterprets them in the most extreme manner possible for a studio film. It’s very much an attempt to recreate the intended effect of the original for 2013 audiences and, in that regard, it’s almost entirely successful. Built from the ground up like some perverse mainstream blockbuster, it might very well be the first “event film” aimed squarely at the heart of those who’ve been craving blood for all these years.
After the rapturous reception at tonight’s premiere, I was a little surprised to see some reactions on my way home that took the film to task for being “fan service.” Of course it’s fan service. 100% percent. In many ways, the 1981 original was fan service as well – the product of a bunch of young horror nuts whose debut film was a love letter to the genre itself. Of course the difference here is that the remake is a love letter to a pre-existing franchise, but it never falters in its giddy exploration of that world. The Evil Dead movies have always been about fun – a bloody sandbox in which characters are tormented in relentlessly inventive ways. I’ve never found a lot of higher meaning in the franchise, so I’m not sure what some of these folks were expecting to find here.
Evil Dead isn’t perfect. After an intense opening, the film struggles to find the right balance of pathos and humor as it introduces its main characters. These kids aren’t headed out to a cabin in the woods to smoke weed and get laid, they’re trying to help their friend Mia [Jane Levy] detox from heroin. At this point the movie can’t quite decide if these characters are stock or unique, and in trying to have it both ways a few of the exchanges fall flat. I admire the fact that the Alvarez and co-screenwriter Rodo Sayagues [along with Diablo Cody] are reaching for something interesting here, but one of the things they sacrifice in their ambition is the summery ensemble chemistry that so many of these films benefit from. Levy and Lou Taylor Pucci are consistently great throughout, but it takes about 20 minutes for the other three characters to warm up.
And that’s pretty much the end of the film’s problems. After things kick into high gear Evil Dead becomes absolutely unstoppable. If you’ve seen the trailers, this is exactly the movie they’ve been selling all along – and somehow it still manages to surprise. For one, it’s even gorier than you’re expecting. I seriously don’t have a clue as to how they wrangled an “R” rating here. Blood, pus, bone fragments, limbs and brains are flung around with playful abundance and the result is both punishing and exhilarating.
Even better is the film’s sense of escalation. There were literally moments where I felt like I was flying with joy. I’m obviously the target audience for something like this, but it’s been a long time since I got a charge so perfectly pitched between catharsis and repulsion. Stripped away from any sense of moral obligation, the violence and cruelty of Evil Dead is intriguingly warm hearted and comforting, probably because it stems from the film’s overriding need to please you. This film doesn’t condemn its audience, it exalts it – and as a result it’s able to achieve a sustained symphony of carnage that energizes rather than exhausts. By the time the film hits its climax – during which the sky literally rains blood for the entirety of the final battle – I was sort of wishing it would never end.
It’s also something you should see in a theater. While I’m sure I’ll get a lot of replay out of the eventual Blu-ray release, this is something you need to experience with your fellow horror comrades. You’re going to want to share this. You’re going to want to hear your friends laugh, scream and utterly lose themselves. This is your Avengers, this is your Avatar, this is whatever you’ve been wanting a “big” horror movie to be for over a decade. Not a perfect movie, but a near perfect experience.
Evil Dead is a f*cking blast.