Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci, Elizabeth Blackmore
Rated: R, for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language
Runtime: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Bottom line: For fans of splatter only
Genre filmmaking can be like a great conversation. If both the filmmakers and viewers know the conventions of the genre, it’s like they share a common language.
A good genre film not only uses the language, but expands it. For instance, "Evil Dead" blends the slasher, splatter and supernatural horror subgenres, but more specifically it belongs to the "Cabin in the Woods" family.
A group of young adults go to a secluded cabin or camp, where someone (usually rednecks or a psychopath with mommy issues) or something (usually a demonic spirit) picks them off one by one until the last woman standing finds a way to kill him/it.
We know the formula. The fun comes when the filmmakers put their own twist on why the kids go there, who is the killer, etc.
The kids in "Evil Dead" hole up in a cabin while Mia (Jane Levy) tries to withdraw from drug addiction. Her nurse friend, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), brings along medication to help ease the withdrawal symptoms. Olivia’s school teacher husband Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) lends moral support.
Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) joins the group, but there is tension between David and Mia from the beginning. David has a history of running away from family problems, and Mia resents having to cover for him her whole life. David brings his new girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), which exacerbates tensions.
If you’ve seen the Sam Raimi cult classic on which "Evil Dead" is based, you know there will be demons. But as those evil forces begin to attack Mia, the others think her behavior is because of the withdrawal. Thinking they are helping her, they unwittingly trap her and force her into possession.
This and other plot turns provide nice twists on the formula, and for a while, the conversation between filmmakers and audience is a treat. Fans of the original film also will recognize the fun the filmmakers are having with Raimi’s film.
For instance, we know the characters are going to ignore all common sense and go into the obviously evil cellar to read from the obviously demonic book, to split up when it’s clearly a bad idea, etc.
We also know one of boys is going to remain in hilarious, inexplicable denial. This was Bruce Campbell’s role in the original, but this time Fernandez wields the chain saw of cluelessness. David’s refusal to grasp what’s really happening sets up numerous one-liners for Eric, and Pucci deadpans them perfectly.
The first two acts capture much of the audacity and just enough of the bizarre humor of Raimi’s original.
Joss Whedon’s "Cabin in the Woods" and Eli Craig’s "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil," both criminally under-appreciated, have deconstructed this subgenre, making it difficult to do anything new with the formula. Against those odds, "Evil Dead" manages to seem fresh for a while.
But then the third act comes and the movie gets dumber and dumber by the minute.
The filmmakers stop trying to do anything new and instead shift to pure, meaningless splatter. And it seems to go on forever.
Horror movies always have a false resolution ("At last it’s dead. Argh no it isn’t!"). But by my count, "Evil Dead" has four endings, the last three of which make no sense and are only there either to set up a sequel or force the inclusion of a reference to the original. It stops being fun and just becomes exhausting.
Filmmakers gave themselves a difficult task to begin with: to remake one of the weirdest films of all time. They succeed up to a point, but like the characters in the film, they ultimately succumb to their most base, self-destructive instincts.
So I guess the remake is, after all, very similar to the original in that they both are failed films. Only, the original’s failings are a joy to watch, while the remake’s are just painful.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University
of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.