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SXSW 2013 Review: ‘Evil Dead’

Saturday 9th March 2013 by Jonathan

Right off the bat, put your fears aside about the new re-imagining of Evil Dead, because the movie rocks. And then prepare to have a whole bunch of new fears put right back… because it’s terrifying in the greatest way you can imagine. For over two decades we’ve been wanting a return to the Evil Dead franchise, but was what we wanted the serious horror of the original film or the colorful, comic book personality of the second and third? Or, like the evil book bound in human flesh that starts off each Evil Dead film, were things really best left untouched altogether? The idea of a revisitation to The Evil Dead has been with us so long that many of us no longer knew what we wanted. Luckily, Fede Alvarez’s “rebirth” (as he stated to a packed house last night) of the franchise in Evil Dead (just Evil Dead, to separate it from the previous The Evil Dead films) answers all of these questions in the best, most carefully designed way possible.

 

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I’m as scared of ruining some of the great moments in the film as I was sitting in my seat watching it but I’ll give you the broad axe strokes. This is a completely new story, with a new cast of characters… who through their dealings with the book happen to sometimes run along similar actions to the events of the original (in some of the most satisfying ways). The movie is very much a straight horror, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments in which we see story elements or imagery from the first three films. The line between remake and original is walked so well that when the movie establishes itself as its own original story it’s refreshing and is allowed to cut loose in a lot of brutal and modernized ways. The last twenty years of horror trends, from the torture porns to the found footages to the Japanese films, have educated this new Evil Dead, and like the original did, it knows what it is, knows the landscape that it exists in and rises above anything else currently out there. This is the best (and coolest) horror movie I’ve seen in years and people in the theater were crawling out of their skin during more moments than I can count (I enjoyed watching the audience’s anguish and elation almost as much as I did the film).

 

Again, the characters are new, with a new band of fresh faced 20-somethings brought to the remote cabin for some time away from the city. But unlike the previous group’s weekend of drinking and smooching, this new group is driven by the need to intervene in their friend Mia’s addiction to heroine. Early on, as they watch Mia drop the last of her drugs down a well, they swear that no matter how bad her withdrawal systems get, they will not leave the cabin until she’s really clean… which obviously works to keep them there until long after the book has been discovered and it is much too late for any of them to leave.

 

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I loved this new grounded take. Not only did it work to humanize the characters beyond what we typically see in most cabin horror films, but it set up a lot of the mechanics of the story perfectly. The characters aren’t motivated to stay in the cabin just to artificially service the story (usually long past the point of common sense). They’re motivated by a real need that they are all focused on. And once the book has been activated, when the evil spirits of the Evil Dead begin to manipulate Mia, her first cries for help and possessed actions are written off as withdrawal symptoms or an attempt to get the group to abandon their intervention so she can return to the city and relapse. Really, the entire cast is great and do a solid job of making these characters believable even as the actions of the plot start to fly off the rails. Jane Levy as Mia and Shiloh Fernandez as her brother David really center the story with their family history of tragedy and estrangement. And when each of them are asked to step up and play the action hero, they do it fantastically. Unlike the literally fashioned, but still enjoyable, character stereotypes of last year’s Cabin in the Woods, Evil Dead does a great job of having you root for each of the central five characters, and when they fall victim to its horrors, every terribly brutal event is both horrifying and heart breaking.

 

And the movie is horrifying. It’s violent. It’s visceral. At times it is completely unrelenting. Evil Dead does not waste time getting to the point at all, and you’ll be satisfied by how soon after you’re sitting in your seat that you are reacting in terror. The story is economic and the scares are loud. Again, I’m desperately trying not to spoil how awesome so many of these moments are. Just think of it like this: in almost every horror films, you have heightened moments of horror that are alleviated by lower scenes of inter-character drama that help invest in the story. Well, this film is revved up early, and the rest of it roars like a chainsaw. The heightened moments of complete terror, with violently, brutal imagery and intense sound design, are only alleviated by smaller horrific scenes and desperate character moments. There really isn’t any part of this film that feels like a safe respite in any way. It epitomizes “edge of your seat” and should be seen in a crowded theater in the best way possible. People reacted to this film in a huge way.

 

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I’d love to spoil some of the details of the film, to tell you about all of the ways that it pays fantastic homage both literally and spiritually to the originals. I’d love to share these things with you if only to exercise some of the insanity that I experienced for myself. I’m still making sense of some of it and need help understanding (and appreciating) how a film this brutally graphic and violent possibly got released in this PG-13 day and age. But I won’t. I can’t. The best way to see this movie is to go in completely fresh, with only your love of the originals as your guide. This really was the best possible reinterpretation of the original The Evil Dead. Producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Bruce Campell and the rest of Ghost House Pictures really hit this one out of the park for both longtime fans and a new generation and they’ve proven themselves yet again to be master manipulators at the tops of their game. And as refreshing as that is, they’ve also put on notice anyone in Hollywood who wants to take something like a Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and simply repackage old ideas with a modern style. The success of these “rebirths” lies in their spirit, and that’s something that you can’t just point a music video director at and hope it survives. Fede Alvarez and company knocked this one out of the park in gut-wrenching fashion, through the story’s many twists and turns, surprises and scares, and I’m happy to report that the spirit of The Evil Dead absolutely lives on.

 

Looking for a second opinion? Check out KeyserSoze’s contrasting review here!

 

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