*Minor Spoilers Ahead!!!*
A girl is wandering in the woods. She appears dazed and helpless. Suddenly, two men appear, quickly throw a bag over her head, and knock her out. Darkness. The girl awakens in a cabin only to find that she’s surrounded by strangers. Her father appears and tells her that she murdered her own mother. We learn that the girl is possessed and, despite her pleas (and threats) her father tearfully sets her on fire before blowing her head off with a shotgun.
And so begins Evil Dead, another modern day horror reboot.
Despite the opening, the bulk of the film follows Mia (Jane Levy), her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), and three of their friends, gathered at the siblings’ old family cabin. The goal: get Mia off drugs...cold turkey. They discover something in the cellar, however, and things don't go as planned.
Evil Dead really worked for me. There’s a great reverence for the original film - The Evil Dead (1981) - which is crucial to any remake. Many aspects of this film pay homage to its forerunner. Familiar props show up (The Oldsmobile! A chainsaw!). Even sound effects and lines from the original film are utilized (you can hear the infamous “Join us,” quote just as the car is pulling up to the cabin at the beginning. Also, the audio tape of the professor from the original film can be heard over the closing credits). The film is set in Michigan. A necklace similar to one in The Evil Dead (and Evil Dead II) plays a part here. This particular detail was interesting for me, mainly because I thought it meant the film was going to use it in a similar fashion as Evil Dead II. A red flag went up. I assumed the movie was going to be predictable. I was wrong.
But - also crucial to any remake - elements are expanded on and/or changed. Much has been made over the famous “tree rape” scene in the original film. It’s used again in this movie, but it’s less gratuitous and seems to serve more of a purpose in a way. At least, in regards to the plot. The characters have a backstory in this film (Mia and David’s mother was crazy and died in a mental hospital). The film also hints at some other interesting new elements (A cult? Ghosts? The Prince of Darkness?).
Now, let’s talk about the aspect of the film that really made it special - the horror. It’s gut-curdling, skin-crawling terror of the highest order and it does not let up for a minute. It’s not just the quality of the horror, either. Whether intentional or not, the film channels other horror films like The Exorcist. Levy’s Mia seems to have a lot more in common with Linda Blair’s Pazuzu-possessed Regan than the leading ladies from The Evil Dead. At least one of Possessed Mia's lines - spoken to her brother - seemed like a line borrowed from The Exorcist.
And the film isn’t all just blood and gore. Director Fede Alvarez builds so much tension in certain scenes that it’s near unbearable. There’s horror for everyone, whether you like body parts being sawed off or the sounds of body parts being sawed off (I still have that noise in my head). The face of a demon hovering in the darkness of the cellar is just as scary as that same face puking blood into another character’s mouth.
Speaking of puking, I was a little worried by the acting at the beginning of the film, in particular, that of Fernandez. Don’t worry, he grows on you. By the end of the film I found his concern for Mia very plausible and heartfelt. He’s no Bruce Campbell, but he was okay.
Levy is, in a word, great. If you’ve seen a trailer for the film, you’re undoubtedly familiar with her “You have to get me out of here,” scene. It’s even better in the film somehow, and I saw the trailer many, many times before I saw the film. There’s just an honesty to that scene. Levy’s Mia is out of her mind with fear and you can really see it.
Towards the end of Evil Dead I realized that the film and Levy’s performance marked the return of the horror heroine. Mia drenched in blood and wielding a chainsaw reminded me - more than any other recent horror film - of Laurie Strode battling with her brother Michael or Ellen Ripley duking it out with a batch of aliens. Since the original Evil Dead films were centered on a man, I didn’t expect the remake to go this route. I guess it's just a bonus!
Evil Dead is the rare reboot that bucks expectations and delivers something respectful of the original and fresh at the same time. It's scary. It's fun. It’s downright Groovy.