Last night, Fede Alvarez's remake of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead premiered at South by Southwest, and now that the critics have recovered from the haze of fake blood, they are furiously typing up their reviews. The verdict so far? Alvarez may not hit the glorious highs of Raimi's comedy-horror franchise, but he pays loving tribute to the original while entertaining horror fans with his wild and endlessly inventive take on movie gore. Spoilers ahead.
Variety neatly sums up what many of the reviewers are saying about Alvarez's Evil Dead, calling it, "the cinematic equivalent of a cover-band concert tribute to a supergroup's greatest hits - albeit with a lot more gore." This Evil Dead will be most enjoyed by those with an intimate knowledge of the original, who will get a kick out of Alvarez's many winks and nods to Raimi's films. Bloody Disgusting says it will be best enjoyed in the theaters with other Evil Dead fans, adding, "it might very well be the first "event film" aimed squarely at the heart of those who've been craving blood for all these years." (Although the reviewer admits that Evil Dead is ultimately a better experience than it is a movie.)
Most of the reviewers seem to enjoy the mild twist on the "kids going to a cabin in the woods" trope. Mia (Jane Levy) is a long-time addict who has wrangled her brother and a group of her friends into helping her detox in the middle of nowhere. When evil is unleashed on the little cabin, Mia's friends initial mistake her odd behavior for symptoms of her detox, but soon they're dealing with a mess of demons and buckets of blood.
While Alvarez plays on many of Raimi's key symbols, his main contribution is his approach to gore, which goes several steps beyond the usual R-rated fare. Says FearNet:
The humor of the piece lies mostly in the over-the-top nature of the graphic violence, but make no mistake: the new Evil Dead is admirably serious about getting under your skin. To this end it employs simple jump scares, elaborate attack sequences, some crazily creative carnage, and (best of all) a pace that dances around for about 25 minutes before getting down to the dirty stuff and never letting up. This is an intense, grotesque, and thoroughly enjoyable piece of horror cinema that pays due homage to its predecessor while also concocting some memorable insanity of its own. That's what horror fans generally want from remakes: respect for the old mixed with an enthusiasm for something new.
Cinema Blend agrees:
The gore factor is what ultimately makes Evil Dead such a raucous crowd-pleaser. Alvarez not only completely drenches the film is the red, sticky stuff, he does so with impressive creativity and has an impressive knack for building tension. Whether it's a character puking blood all over another, cutting on their own face with a piece of glass, stabbing someone with a hypodermic needle, or making good use of an electric carving knife, once the blood starts flowing it never really stops. But even when the scenes are heavily set up with foreshadowing or text straight from the evil book (which happens quite often), the audience still cringes and reacts, as you can't believe what they actually get away with showing on screen.
However, despite Alvarez's deft direction of the gory visuals, many reviewers have complaints about the script. Film School Rejects, for example, says:
But the script by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (with conspicuously invisible punch-ups by Diablo Cody) is flat, generic and utterly idiotic. Just as slasher films had to evolve or die after Wes Craven's Scream, movies like this need to be smarter in a post-Cabin in the Woods world. Alvarez and friends apparently missed that memo though as everything about the script is lazy and the characters are far from compelling. The five friends act stupidly and unrealistically throughout. The film simply moves through a series of checked boxes to appease fans of the original and get to the action through the path of least narrative resistance.
ShockTillYouDrop echoes their disappointment, saying that, "Evil Dead is slickly put together, but it is also vapid and vacuous," describing the film as "entertaining" but wishing it added a little more to the genre.
/Film notes that this failure does much to highlight the genius of the original and Raimi's intuitive approach to filmmaking:
The approach we see in this version underlines why Raimi's movies appeal to audiences beyond die-hard gorehounds. Raimi, [Bruce] Campbell, and [Robert] Tapert may claim that they were just goofing and working intuitively, but their intuition was sharp. They had a great handle on audience manipulation not only within a scene, but from one scene to the next, all linked by Campbell's winning presence. Alvarez crafts a few setpieces, both new and recreations, that trap the audience between dread and excitement. But the connective spark, that underlying intuition, rarely flares.
The Evil Dead remake opens April 5, 2013.