Friday, April 5, 2013

In Theaters: EVIL DEAD (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Fede Alvarez.  Written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues.  Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore.  (R, 92 mins)

Producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell gave their seal of approval to this remake celebrating the 30th anniversary of their beloved cult horror classic THE EVIL DEAD (shown in its native Detroit and at film fests in 1981-82, but not released nationally until 1983).  Uruguayan director/co-writer Fede Alvarez, making his feature debut, omits most of the humor from Raimi's original film, instead going for a relentless, full-throttle assault of blood, guts, gore, vomit, dismemberment, demonic possession, and all-out madness.  It has a nice eerie vibe, and though it's rarely overtly scary (other than those of the quick, cheap, jump-scare variety), it's an undeniably enthusiastic '80s throwback horror outing with minimal CGI and countless gallons of wet, chunky, sloppy splatter, so if you're sick of cartoonish, digital gore and want to kick it old school, EVIL DEAD will satisfy on that point alone.

While the set-up remains the same--five people in a cabin in the woods--Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues (with uncredited contributions by JUNO's Diablo Cody, of all people) change the circumstances.  Mia (SUBURGATORY's Jane Levy, in a performance that should make her a fixture at horror cons for the next few decades) is a heroin addict brought to the cabin by friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas), along with Mia's estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), for a cold-turkey intervention to get her to kick her addiction for good.  The cabin is a wreck, thanks to a prologue that showed some local hilljacks burning a possessed young woman in the cellar, but they make do and settle in for a long weekend of Mia's inevitably unpleasant withdrawal and ironing out some deep-rooted family issues with David, who went MIA and left Mia to deal with their dying mother on her own.  Eric finds a bunch of dead, hanging cats and some blood in the basement, along with a flesh-bound book of incantations that summons the spectre of the executed girl, who promptly possesses Mia in an ambitious but ultimately facile metaphor for her heroin addiction.  With Mia possessed and transformed into a haggard, vulgar, taunting, vomiting demon, and the only road back to civilization flooded by high water, everyone is trapped in the cabin for the duration as they fall victim to demonic possession one by one.

Alvarez isn't the least bit subtle with the foreshadowing--the moment you see a roast being sliced with an electric carving knife, you know that'll be slicing through human flesh at some point--and no, there wasn't really a need for an EVIL DEAD remake, but as far as remakes go, it's quite good.  It's just nice to see something that bucks the trend and, for the most part, appears to be aimed toward adults and longtime fans who cut their teeth on some classic shit when they were young.  If you grew up on '80s horror or have a significant degree of affection for it, you'll like what Alvarez does here.  These characters are all in the mid-to-late 20s, well into adulthood, there's no snarky or ironic humor (which makes one wonder exactly what Cody's script contributions were; they tried to keep her involvement on the QT, but it's pretty much an open secret by now; rest assured, there's no JUNO or JENNIFER'S BODY quipping going on here), and Alvarez is keenly aware that the old ways are the best, throwing buckets upon buckets of blood and other bodily fluids all over the screen.

Knowing his limitations and that he can't top a classic and shouldn't embarrass himself and torpedo his career trying, Alvarez makes his EVIL DEAD its own film, but pays respectful tribute and a certain degree of allegiance to Raimi's film in the process. Some plot elements remain intact, and he replicates the famed fast-tracking shots through the woods.  The major difference, other than the heroin addiction angle, is the significant toning down and near complete-removal of the comedic elements, which were there in Raimi's film but weren't really prevalent until 1987's EVIL DEAD II and 1993's ARMY OF DARKNESS.  Adding to the effectiveness is the committed work of the cast, particularly Levy and Pucci, who gets some of the more crowd-pleasing moments and is the closest thing the film has to comic relief, but even his Eric is a little too shell-shocked to commit to being a smartass.  Is EVIL DEAD 2013 a new genre classic?  No, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do with its grisly excess and stretching the R-rating to its breaking point, and, provided it's in your wheelhouse, it's the probably the most enjoyably fun horror film to see with a big crowd since last year's Raimi-inspired deconstructionist gem THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

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