“Okay. Let’s play cold turkey.”
I wouldn’t say hopes were high, but I did enter Fede Alvarez‘s Evil Dead remake with an open mind. I liked the idea of bringing the series back to horror as the original Sam Raimi chiller was the trilogy’s best to me. In concert with this was my complete lack of nostalgia due to my never having seen them until my twenties. So there was literally nothing telling me it couldn’t be successful—including Raimi and star Bruce Campbell giving their thumbs up as producers. I can appreciate a good gore fest for artistic sake and if any cult classic could use polishing The Evil Dead is it. And for about half the film I really thought everything was working to that effect. Sadly it eventually fell apart.
Interestingly enough, Alvarez and cowriter Rodo Sayagues don’t begin things by grounding us in prologue exposition as far as the franchise’s previous installments. I found this kind of hilarious considering Raimi himself felt obligated to do so in both of his sequels. Instead the two newcomers introduce their own evil origins courtesy of a young girl possessed by the Kandarian Demon and an old witch skinning cats and saying incantations from a rebound Necronomicon of skin sans face. It’s the perfect setting to show us exactly how gory and messed up this version will be thanks to carcasses, molten flesh, and family on family shotgun bursts, but how will it infer on what’s to come? Will we discover who these people were?
Spoiler alert: we won’t. I didn’t mind this realization except for the fact that the cabin is the same one owned by Professor Knowby thirty years ago. Now it belongs to David (Shiloh Fernandez) and Mia (Jane Levy), their family buying it at some point to fix up without knowledge of the evil it holds. Did they buy it from the old witch woman of the prologue? Did that whole ritual occur unbeknownst to them while dealing with issues far from its secluded locale? I don’t know. And I guess I shouldn’t care, but we’re talking about an iconic piece of horror lore ignored except for Raimi’s old car outside connecting it to the past via Easter Egg. Some history might have been nice.
But alas, we meet the new quintet of potential victims as they converge to help Mia kick her heroin habit instead. Yes, it’s now the twenty-first century. Co-eds don’t go to the woods for promiscuous sex anymore. Now its interventions and detox programs. We shouldn’t be surprised they chose a creepy old establishment far from anything but dirt roads and bridges at risk of high water floods during rain storms (showing us this sign when they enter would have been much more effective than waiting until an escape was attempted since foreshadowing is always better than out-of-nowhere pranks) since their past is dark. Dad is never mentioned, Mom died in a mental institution, and David left Mia all alone to deal with it. Thanks, big brother.
Alvarez and Sayagues lean heavily on this insanity angle to keep everyone reluctant of accepting a demon is upon them once chaos reigns. It’s a smart maneuver—the drug habit too—since Mia going crazy through possession could easily be withdrawal or psychosis. But this only works for a short time—maybe until one fatality or at most two. So this is where the film lost me because David has to accept what’s happening isn’t just a disease or his as-yet-unmentioned fear of getting the loony gene at some point. That fear would make sense if it were shared earlier. For instance: we don’t even know Mom was crazy until after thinking she had cancer. So many reveals occur way too late to be more than contrived laziness.
This means that the somewhat simple, quick and dirty plot suddenly becomes a convoluted psychological nightmare subverting all the good we had experienced. And don’t even get me started on the multiple endings meant to scare us that only receive bored exasperation instead. The final battle shouldn’t even occur considering the rules the film sets forth for itself. Only after five souls are taken can the demon rise from Hell. If there are only five characters in the entire project save that prologue, one must still be alive to fight it. So how does that work? You tell me because I don’t know. Credit the filmmakers for making the sequence look cool, though. And with all practical effects to boot—a detail you can’t discover without earned appreciation.
As for the rest: just hope watching Levy, Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci (curious Eric who never learned to read without speaking the words out loud), Jessica Lucas (registered nurse Olivia in charge of the detox program), and Elizabeth Blackmore (David’s girlfriend Natalie who honestly doesn’t add much to the plot besides another body to dismember) suffer is enough. In the end that’s all Evil Dead truly provides outside of familiar scenes from the original reworked with a Hollywood budget (clutching tree branches, trap door smiles, and missing hands). Once it tries to pretend we’re supposed to care for Mia and David due to their tough lives it forgets why we’re here. There are too many half-baked ideas making it seem like the script changed three times too many.