Not Quite ‘Dead’ on Arrival

Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

My relationship with popular horror films being remade has been an antagonistic one. Most of these attempts lie within the realm of the filmmaker and cast adding nothing new to an already classic movie, thus making the process feel utterly useless in the end. When “The Evil Dead” was announced as the next one, I had that same reaction of, “Come on, seriously?” that was shared with millions of other fans of the cult franchise. However, this new “Evil Dead” manages to be better than most recent entries in classic horror movie remakes, but it still doesn’t go without its faults that prevent it from being great.

Hearkening back to the story of the original film, five friends in their early 20s travel to a remote cabin for what seems to be an ordinary vacation. Unfortunately, their privacy is violated when they discover Necronomicon, also known as the Book of the Dead. One of the friends reads several lines from a page out loud, thus summoning the demons that inhabit the woods. In a matter of minutes, the friends are put in danger of potential demonic possession, which puts them into a fight to the death while trying to break the curse of the Book.

The original “Evil Dead” trilogy is one of the most uniquely entertaining cult movie trilogies in existence, and I’m a proud comrade of the huge army of fans it has assembled since its inception. The first “Evil Dead” is a memorable low-budget affair of magical camera techniques, eye-popping visuals and a plethora of bloody violence that had the intention to produce both shock and laughter from its excessiveness. “Evil Dead II,” on the other hand, is those aforementioned main aspects done again, but instead times 100 in the greatest execution possible. Now, I haven’t seen the third film, “Army of Darkness,” yet, but having seen the first two films gave me enough preparation and hype for this remake.

Acting-wise, the cast in this remake is similar to the ones featured in the original films, in which a strong lead gets paired with a supporting cast of characters that are about as memorable as the movies released in January every year. Jane Levy is certainly no Bruce Campbell as Mia, but she does a very commendable job at playing a depressed, recovering drug addict that gets juxtaposed with the demon taking control over her body. As for the rest of the actors that play her brother and friends, they range from being either okay to the very definition of mediocre.

In terms of technicality though, this is where this remake hits its highest points. Director Fede Alvarez replicates Sam Raimi’s stylish camera angles and practical visual effects from the original films to such a great degree that I believed Raimi was still behind the camera. Even though the film was shot digitally, Alvarez still managed to maintain a sense of grimy quality that matched the film’s holed-up setting.

Once the violence begins, it pretty much never ends, as it made me laugh, squirm and shocked, sometimes all at the same time. The practicality that Alvarez achieves in making the inflictions look real is a true achievement in today’s horror cinema, where most kills are painted over with CGI.

Ironically though, Alvarez seemed to not care as much about the overall quality of both the films’ script and acting. The original “Evil Dead” films had a darkly comedic element that gave it an edge most other horror films didn’t have, but Alvarez and his co-writer didn’t seem to make an attempt to continue that trend, and that certainly shows in scenes between the brutality that contain worn-out melodrama and almost effortlessly-written dialogue. In addition, the actors, apart from Levy, felt restrained to a fault where they say their lines in the same one-note manner for the entire film.

Though it does have a marvelously crafted final 20 minutes, in addition to the clever easter eggs shown in reference to the original film(s), I couldn’t help but feel that “The Evil Dead” was missing something in the end. It has a welcoming execution in terms of replicating original trilogy director Sam Raimi’s style, but the emptiness of the script and filler scenes make it an experience that should’ve been a somewhat better one than the hype had promised it to be.

Only Recommended If: You’re a fan of the “Evil Dead” series or are into cult horror films. This was a film that didn’t quite live up to all the hype.