25 April 2013


Does this scream "Read me", to you?
Well, it goes to show you never can tell. By all rights, any remake or reimagining of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series should be absolutely terrible, and it's a concept that's been making me shudder with dread since it was announced. It's also coming out in the shadow of last year's The Cabin in the Woods, itself a subversive horror flick that lovingly put a stake through the heart of the "five teens go into the woods" movie.

It's surprising then, that although Evil Dead still doesn't quite hit the spot, it still turned out to be quite enjoyable. First and foremost, it's a straight rehash of the original. They don't even try to recast or reboot Ash Williams, and instead introduce five new characters and a new story. Mia is a drug addict, who is taken out into the woods by her three friends, and her older brother David, after she nearly dies from an overdose. While staying at their family cabin, one of their number disturbs the ancient Book of the Dead, inadvertently inviting demons to terrorise and possess them, and setting an apocalyptic ritual in motion.

Writer-director Fede Alvarez finds many more ways to have fun with this loose continuation, and the real value in this approach is that we have actual characters, rather than teenager-shaped pigs for slaughter. This is such a vital ingredient of a good horror film, and yet it's an ingredient that many American horror filmmakers seem to skip over. It gives the rest of the film so much more weight, watching distinctive characters, about whom you may even give two or more shits, wading through the buckets of gore that come a-pouring.

It's helped by having some pretty terrific actors too. Jane Levy makes a strong impression as Mia, first as a young woman troubled by addiction, and then in full-on Linda Blair mode, screaming obscenities and mutilating herself and others as the night wears on. The other highlights are Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor-Pucci, who seemingly jostle for position as the heir to Ash, but each of the characters emerge with very different roles. The film frequently contorts itself to subvert expectations, and yet it's never uncomfortably so. For what is essentially a remake to be so unpredictable is hugely refreshing.

But inevitably, in the same fashion as 2011's The Thing "pre-make", this new instalment finds itself a slave to in-jokes. While they don't overwhelm the new stuff that Alvarez brings to the table, they're such a regular resort that it's almost like the film itself needs to go cold turkey on them. The reversion to these gags is compulsive, and yet some are disturbingly well integrated. I could write a whole essay on the effects of the revamped tree rape scene, which was greeted by uproarious applause from fanboys at its premiere, as compared to its counter in the original. Even I caught myself appreciating that "they'd found a reason to include it," before feeling simultaneously dirty, and impressed at how much the film had me on side.

All of this suggests that Alvarez is a formidable horror filmmaker in the making, and his work here is strong enough to make you hope that he has more original ideas to share than the planned roster of further extensions to this particular franchise. Whatever your thoughts on the rape scene, you couldn't say that it comes from a mean-spirited or misogynistic place, even if it betrays a little bit of nostalgic reverence for the original. While there are missed opportunities with the characters, (they never make the most of Mia's drug addiction as a metaphor for possession) there's enough there to root for them.

Even if producers Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell hadn't been keeping an eye on this one, Evil Dead is a rare horror reboot that comes from a different angle and also captures the tone of the original. It's not as good as any of the films from the original trilogy, granted, but in getting the tone right, the few minor missteps that happen along the way feel completely forgivable. Despite some nostalgic distractions, Fede Alvarez brings more to the table than many would have, and the result is surprising and refreshing, as opposed to obvious and tired. After a disconcerting number of ultra-gory films that border on being hateful, this one is a breath of fresh air, even if it has enough practical viscera to make you want to chuck that breath back up.

Evil Dead is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Evil Dead, why not share your comments below? Anyone else reckon that this would serve as a compelling anti-drugs movie for recovering addicts?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

No comments: