While I’m one of the first to groan when a Hollywood studio greenlights the remake of a classic (or, often, not-so-classic) film, every once in awhile the powers-that-be manage to get it right. Thankfully, this weekend’s “Evil Dead” is one of the rare examples of a remake that works.
True, our own Drew McWeeny liked but certainly didn’t love the film at last month’s SXSW, giving it a borderline B- grade and writing, “Alvarez has a strong visual plan for the film, and I’m guessing young audiences who aren’t that familiar with the original films are going to be rocked by the experience. But if you’re looking for a film that works both thematically and viscerally, ‘Evil Dead’ comes up a little short, and in ways that left me frustrated just as much as I was entertained.”
While I do agree with the majority of Drew’s gripes about the film – I too was critical of the rather lazily-written scene in which the evil spirits are unleashed, for starters – its weaker aspects didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie as much as they did from his, and overall I found it to be an immensely satisfying ride with a wicked sense of humor and moments of pure stylistic brilliance. Below, then, are five good reasons the forthcoming fright-flick deserves your support.
1) Ash (Bruce Campbell) isn’t in it
To Ash or not to Ash? This is a case where the filmmakers were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t, but in the end they made exactly the right choice by refusing to either shoehorn Campbell into the equation or hand the role over to a new, younger actor. There’s just no way anyone could have replicated Campbell’s iconic lead performance in the original film, so why bother trying? Instead, Alvarez and co-screenwriter Rodrigo Sayagues have come up with an entirely new cast of characters, with entirely different motivations for holing themselves up in a deteriorating old cabin in the middle of nowhere. Which brings met to my next point…
2) The setup is believable and rich with subtext
In Raimi’s version, Ash and friends were just out to have a good time, though why five attractive young people would want to spend their Spring Break in a broken-down hovel is beyond me. In the new film, an entirely new and altogether more convincing approach is taken, with Jane Levy’s Mia being a heroin addict whose friends take her to the run-down cabin to help her kick the habit. The metaphorical demons plaguing the young woman are soon enough made flesh as she and her friends become tormented by a bevy of literal demons unleashed straight from the pits of Hell. It’s a smart setup grounded by a committed performance from Levy, thus far known best for her role as sarcastic teenage transplant Tessa on ABC’s “Suburgatory.” Which of course brings me to…(click over to
3) The acting is better than in the original
Oh, stop it. No one ever became a fan of “The Evil Dead” because of its brilliant performances, they became a fan because it’s a bloody fun ride with a wicked directorial eye behind the camera. With its more earnest drug-addiction setup, this “Evil Dead” is a different animal than Raimi’s goofier original, and piss-poor acting could have sunk the entire endeavor. Thankfully, Levy’s go-for-broke performance is supported by mostly strong work from her fellow cast members, including Shiloh Fernandez (as Mia’s brother David), Lou Taylor Pucci (as the wise-cracking Eric) and Jessica Lucas (as Mia’s fiercely-loyal best friend Olivia). Pucci in particular nails his could’ve-been-thankless role by bringing to it a tongue-in-cheek sensibility that never feels precious.
4) It’s funny as Hell
Despite the remake’s weightier backstory, Alvarez smartly never loses sight of the pitch-black comedy that made Raimi’s original such a pleasure to watch. Treating the over-the-top subject matter too seriously would’ve felt like a betrayal of the “Evil Dead” brand, but luckily every grisly gag here boasts an undercurrent of Grand Guignol outrageousness that makes you laugh even as you remain fully entrenched in the horror.
5) The effects are almost entirely practical
Having been duped by talk of “minimal CGI” before (hello, “The Thing”), at this point I’m prone to writing off similar claims as public-relations nonsense. But “Evil Dead” is the real deal – a throwback to the era in which the original film was made that accomplishes almost every single effect “in-camera.” While this no doubt proved a torturous ordeal for the actors during filming, on screen it works brilliantly in keeping us engaged and undistracted by a disheartening collection of lazy green-screen moments. That blood spewing out of Jane Levy’s mouth directly into co-star Jessica Lucas’s face? Well, it ain’t made out of pixels.
Will you be seeing “Evil Dead” this weekend? Let us know in the comments.