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Movie Review: Evil Dead (2013)

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What I’ll tell you at the bar: Evil Dead will thrill splatter hounds old and new, as it dishes out levels of gore unseen in theaters for some time. Don’t expect many surprises, though, as the plot never strays from the known or expected.

Grade: B

What I really think:

First of all, let me make it clear that this isn’t a zombie movie, okay? A long, long time ago, before the dark cloud of the undead trend swept across the suburban shopping malls and sports bars of America, there was an elite cadre of occultists who understood that walking whilst deceased was only a symptom for any number of unholy conditions, the very least of which was that of being an undead servant. To be fair, Romero himself muddied this up a bit with his kind of walking dead. With the odd exception of  films like Plan 9 From Outer Space, before Romero the walking undead were made by all manner of dark incantations and workings. They had no singular will and they were usually the tools of a profoundly dark master. Zombies were enslaved by evil masters, and corpses possessed by demonic forces were another matter entirely. The dark spirits which possess and transform the hapless living in Evil Dead are far more spirited than the shambling rot of zombies old and new.

Evil Dead is, of course, a remake of The Evil Dead (1981), the low-budget sensation which launched the careers of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and may have given a boost to a young filmmaker by the name of Joel Coen. Both films concern a group of five friends who uncover an arcane leather-bound book while visiting an isolated cabin in the woods. This book, written using human blood and skin, summons a horde of demons when its contents are verbalized. The original summoning is slightly more innocent, as the voice which raises the demons is a recorded section of the cabin’s original resident reciting the satanic passages. In this updated version, a school teacher with an interest in arcana willfully reads the text out loud, despite all the bloody warnings to the contrary.

If only someone had tried to warn them!

There’s more gravitas to the remake, too. While the original film fueled the emergent genre of stupid kids doing dumb things in the face of supernatural horror, this remake gives them real problems to deal with before they take on their own small squad of darkness. The group of friends isn’t there to party naked in the woods, they’re going to get David’s (Shiloh Fernandez) drug addicted sister Mia (Jane Levy) sober by turning the cabin into a rehab clinic. So when Mia starts acting possessed, her bizarre actions are seen as no more than detox side effects. I expect this is something co-writer Diablo Cody added to the project.

Mia (Jane Levy) don’t wanna go to rehab, no.

One by one the demons consume the visitors, leaving the others to fend them off and try to find a way to contain the evil. Unlike the original, the creatures in this version are just as content to finish off their host’s body as they are to kill the others. They just need five souls to finish the ritual, and it doesn’t matter how they get them. Because of this, the dynamic in the cabin is a little more complicated than the “Tom and Jerry” style antics of the original film. The horror is two-fold as the decision to help their friends is weighed against self-preservation. With the realization that the only way to save their friends is to destroy their bodies, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and David are forced to weigh future repercussions against immediate survival. A few moments of oblique dialogue and performance are all it takes to show this, a level of performance which is higher than most of what genre films offer. This kind of subtlety was not even in the same part of the woods as the original The Evil Dead.

About T.A. Wardrope