Let’s just answer this question now. No, “Evil Dead” is not the “most terrifying film you will ever experience,” as its posters would lead you to believe. It would be tough to proclaim it even as the most terrifying film in recent memory, given the release of the excellent “Sinister” not too long ago. Perhaps the marketing for the movie wasn’t the wisest, unrealistically setting a bar the film was not likely to achieve. It’s a good thing you don’t judge a movie by its marketing though, because “Evil Dead” is nonetheless a frightening experience, one that will unnerve you, make you feel uncomfortable and perhaps even sicken you.
The story, as one might expect, is of little consequence, though it gives off the air of importance with its heavy set-up. Mia (Jane Levy) is a coke addict. She tried to kick the habit a number of times, but never could, so she and her friends, along with her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), head out to a cabin in the woods to recover, away from the civilization that exposed her to the drug. On one hand, this is a refreshing start. Most horror movies give little reason as to why a group of friends isolate themselves in some remote area beyond a cheap weekend-long party where drug use is encouraged. The opposite is true here, but it raises some issues with the film as a whole.
Although cliché, the no-reason set-up in something like the “Friday the 13th” remake promises nothing special. It typically puts the movie on a level of self-awareness, fully cognizant of what it is and what it intends to accomplish. But when a film sets up these plot threads and tries to give these characters back stories (however thin they may be), they must be followed through on. “Evil Dead” doesn’t do this, resulting in a screenplay that’s fresh with horror movie scares, but narratively inconsistent. Tack on a really lazy back story about Mia and David’s mother who died years ago and characters that are lacking in real personalities and you have a movie that gives you little reason to care.
So the fact that you still do is astonishing. It’s a testament to the craft of its making, which relies heavily on ambiance, lighting and shadows to deliver its thrills. While not devoid of a few cheap jump scares, “Evil Dead” is surprisingly restrained, in this regard at least. It’s more about things slowly crawling out of the shadows and building an atmosphere than it is about the “Gotcha!” moments so many horror movies rely on these days. Of course, when it comes to the violence, it’s another story altogether.
Although the original film and its sequels were indeed violent, their violence was one of two things: over-the-top or cheeky. It was never something to look away from or be disgusted by. This movie, on the other hand, is brutal. Its violence is absolutely relentless and, aside from a moment or two, very graphic, uncomfortably so at times. The reason is because the violence is visceral. Although most likely not to these extremes, you’ll know what some of this feels like. Most don’t know what it’s like to have something go through your arm, but we all know what it’s like to get a deep cut. Although one is clearly more painful than the other, the film wisely opts for the one we’ve felt, allowing us to recall our own pain while we watch those onscreen experience it. It’s not something everyone will enjoy, but it’s beneficial to a movie that obviously seeks to get some kind of reaction from its audience.
Clearly, this isn’t your 1981 “Evil Dead.” This is its own evil beast. The original was a scary movie, but it was also more humorous, both intentionally and unintentionally thanks to its campiness and low budget. There’s nothing funny about this. Any laughter you hear in the theater is most likely due to general uneasiness. There is some inherent amusement in the characters’ silly logic—first, they remark that it smells like something died in there, then they see a dried up pool of blood leading to the cellar, so their first thought is, “Yeah, let’s go down there”—but these are necessary elements that are expected in this genre, no matter how dumb they may be.
“Evil Dead” isn’t always pleasant, but horror movies needn’t be. The important thing is that it doesn’t feel exploitive like something like “The Human Centipede.” When dealing with this concept and source material, such chaos and brutality are warranted and even necessary in its telling. Admittedly, it’s a bit difficult to watch a movie like this when last year’s “Cabin in the Woods” so brilliantly skewered the subgenre, but it’s hard to deny its technical proficiency.
There’s something here almost any horror aficionado will enjoy and to those fans of the original, who no doubt fear this will not live up to the “Evil Dead” name, rest assured that it does, just in a different way (and there are plenty of nods to those movies; listen closely and you might hear an echo of Bruce Campbell’s dialogue from the original). When you factor in the post-credits tease that I dare not give away, it gives fans plenty to be excited for. This franchise is in good hands and if Sam Raimi does indeed follow through on his promise of a fourth “Evil Dead,” this film will surely complement it nicely.