In four words: Go see this film.
I was very concerned going into Evil Dead because I had seen the trailers and had high expectations. Because horror is my favorite genre, I always want these films to succeed, but I also have high standards and am often disappointed. I walked into the theater with 8 other haunters, and from beginning to end the entire group was squirming, covering our faces, laughing, and encouraging the mayhem. Good art makes you feel something, and each of us had emotional and physical reactions to this film. Very well done.
As most of you know this Evil Dead is a reboot of the 1981-1992 cult series that included The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness. Each of these films starred Bruce Campbell and was directed by Sam Raimi, both of whom produced this film. While the original series was meant to be comedic, this reboot (directed by newcomer Fede Alvarez) is far from it. Some viewers may miss the comedy, but this Evil Dead is so different, you almost can’t compare it to the 1981 film. I enjoyed this take on what has become a cult horror classic. The original series has its place, and while they are some of my favorite films, I don’t believe contemporary audiences would be as receptive to comedy-horror.
Evil Dead does still manage to tactfully harken back to the originals. Their choice of a rookie director may have been intentional to maintain a level of respect for past works while introducing a set of fresh ideas. One of the first images we see is Mia (Jane Levy) sitting atop a rusted-out Oldsmobile that we can only assume belonged to Ash (Bruce Campbell). I also loved that Alvarez kept the distinctive “evil being running through the forest” camerawork. These touches will be fun for fans of the originals to spot, but in no way detract from experience of someone new to the Evil Dead series.
One thing the film avoided was stereotypical representation of addiction. Mia began her struggle with drugs after watching her mother suffer through a severe mental illness and eventually death. She was abandoned by her brother (David played by Shiloh Fernandez) during this time of need, who now attempts to atone for his actions by helping his sister through detox. The film doesn’t imply that Mia is a bad person and somehow deserves what happens to her because of her addiction. It actually makes more of a statement about David and the consequences he faces for being a poor son and brother.
As Mia begins to detox she immediately has a sense that something is wrong and wants to leave the cabin. Of course the audience knows she’s correct, but her friends are expecting this behavior from someone who has already tried and failed to quit using drugs. After much prodding, this leads her friends to the basement where we see the disturbing result of the prologue and find what the audience knows to be “The Book of the Dead”. While each audience member is screaming in their heads “DON’T OPEN THE DAMN BOOK YOU IDIOT!” the characters are actually less idiotic than in most horror films. They’re able to use logic to explain Mia’s behavior and even the dead cats hanging from the ceiling in the basement. You know that if you were in that cabin, you’d make most of the same choices. I like how the characters are reasonably intelligent human beings; it brings a sense of reality to the film. It’s Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), whose main mistake is curiosity (a theme seen in many horror films), who brings about the evil by reading a passage from the book. Idiot…
As Mia runs off into the woods and Eric reads a secret passage from the book, fans of the original get another treat. The demon enters Mia in the style of the infamous “tree rape” scene. It’s incredibly disturbing and may offend some viewers, yet it’s appropriate given that IT’S A FUCKING DEMON. This is the type of shit demons do. Other than this one scene, I get the feeling that Alvarez was uncomfortable displaying female sexuality. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that Alvarez didn’t exploit female sexuality in this film, and I’m not suggesting that he should have. That theme has run rampant in horror films for far too long and it’s refreshing to see a thoughtful portrayal of women in horror.
While we’re on the subject of feminism is horror, Evil Dead quite clearly does not require its characters to abide by typical gender roles. This is a movie that does what it wants. For starters the women of this film kick ass. They do a good job of beating up the men but also themselves. Olivia (Jessica Lucas) cuts off her own face with a piece of broken mirror and Natalie her arm with a turkey carver before they both (respectively) turn on their friends. These women are not only victims but also monsters.
It was interesting that David (being the biggest jerk of the film) suffers the least physical trauma out of the group. Alvarez seems like a thoughtful enough filmmaker to choose his characters wisely rather than have the demon inhabit and kill at random. This may be an example of how people can change and are rewarded for becoming better human beings. From what we know of David, he has a history of doing what is easy rather than doing what is right. But David has a “Merle moment” (yup, it’s a thing now) at the end of the film where he sacrifices himself to save his sister. David dies a hero, and the only one with a clean soul. I enjoyed this dynamic because it made David’s character multidimensional, a departure from some traditional horror where bad people are all bad and good people are all good.
Mia is also a multidimensional character. She is a person who suffers the consequences of doing the right thing. We must assume that if David were there during his mother’s passing then he could have eased the strain, and Mia would not have fallen into drugs. These actions frame Mia as a strong, good person, but the repeated drug abuse and failed attempts at rehab show that she does have weaknesses. Perhaps Alvarez is making the comment that people need the support of others to remain strong (sounds a bit like the conclusion of The Walking Dead). David literally recharges Mia with a car battery, but this is really a metaphor for Mia recharging her mental strength. All she needed was support from her big brother.
Lastly, like Natalie and Olivia, Mia is a victim and a monster in this film, but unlike them, she is also the heroine. It is incredibly unique to see one character take on such vastly different roles during the course of a film, and it was artfully done. Mia begins as meek and sickly, becomes a hideous creature, but transforms into a badass woman who beats the living hell (literally) out of a terrifying monster. Mia embodies the strength of the human spirit and how we can overcome immense evil when empowered by the strength of our friends and family.
I really enjoyed Evil Dead. My love for the originals was not lessened by this film and only added to my enjoyment. I didn’t miss the comedic aspect, as this is simply a different take on a similar story. The gore was extremely well done and very little CGI was used. (As a haunter and a theater nerd, I don’t want to know what the crew went through to make and clean up all of that blood.) The plot was meaningful and unlike the recent trend of “torture porn” the gore had a clear purpose. I really wanted Natalie’s maimed hand to start walking across the floor, but there was enough of the originals to keep me happy. If you’re a fan of horror, you’ll love this one. Easily the best horror film I’ve seen in years.