Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
It’s hard to watch “Evil Dead” after seeing “The Cabin in the Woods,” and not just because the movie takes place in a cabin in the woods. On the one hand, it’s admirable that director Fede Alvarez went to great lengths to keep this, a remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 game-changing original, grounded in a style similar to the source material. (Case in point: there isn’t a single piece of technology used in this movie that didn’t already exist in 1981.) On the other hand, this type of movie has either been borrowed or parodied approximately six million times in the 32 years since its release, and as a result, the story structure seems less retro than it does arcane. No amount of blood can wash that away, though God knows they tried.
David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) meet up at his family’s desolate, run-down cabin with David’s sister Mia (Jane Levy) and old friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) for the purposes of helping Mia quit heroin cold turkey. Mia swears the house smells horrendous, though no one else seems to notice but the dog (yes, the dog), and after some prodding, the group uncovers some ghastly atrocities in the cellar, along with a book wrapped in barbed wire. Eric pries the book open and, despite the fact that there are warnings etched into the pages advising the reader not to write, read, or say any of the words the previous owners tried to hide, proceeds to do all three of those things, which unleashes an unspeakable demon that possesses Mia, and then spends the rest of the evening toying with the others while slowly plotting to kill them all.
There are several reasons why people loved Raimi’s film, but chief among them were the innovative camera techniques Raimi employed (speed shot through the woods) and the dark, visceral nature of the material. Like it or not, that material seems much less dark today, which is why the decision by the filmmakers to pretend that the last 30 years never happened is a mistake. Alvarez made some changes to small details of the story, but they’re not enough; a 2013 “Evil Dead” should have a healthy dose of self-awareness and adrenaline. This movie lacks both, content to cover the movie’s problems with blood, but even that backfires on them, resulting in a film that isn’t gory so much as it is grotesque (the word ‘sinewy’ springs to mind). Also, the actors are pretty worthless, particularly Shiloh Fernandez as the protagonist, but in their defense, they’re given nothing to work with. The score has some memorable moments though; it uses the air raid sound, for one, to nice effect.
The catch-22 of horror films is that even the best ones lose their scare factor after a while (except, of course, “The Exorcist” and “Poltergeist”). Even the original “Evil Dead” seems like a product of its time today; how did they think a stone-cold serious remake of the film 32 years later would fare any better? For a movie that was at one point wildly ahead of its time, it’s sad to see someone remake it into something stodgy and slow. The Book of the Dead deserved better than this.