To say “Evil Dead” is groovy would be the understatement of the year. (But not when Bruce Campbell says it.) In fact, it’s the best and bloodiest of the season.
Everything longtime fans have hoped for, and the ultimate newbie’s launch into this (better) cabin in the woods, “Evil Dead” is a true reboot. That word, along with the equally dreaded “reimagining” is bandied about far too cavalierly. In this case, however, it’s the devil’s honest truth.
Overseen by the original “Evil Dead” movers and shakers (Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell), but infused with the fresh blood of first-time feature director Fede Alvarez and a cast of relatively unknown cuties, this flick rocks hard and heavy. Imbued with tinges of germane humor, “Evil Dead” plays it straight and scary, and clocking in at a breakneck 92 minutes, the shock and suspense never let up.
The reason for having the young 20-somethings hang out in an isolated shack is better than most: Mia (Jane Levy) is kicking hard drugs, and along to show their support are her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and medical student Olivia (Jessica Lucas). Motivations for each character’s behavior and actions (withdrawal hallucination, brotherly concern, use of hypodermic needles, etc.) are each attributed as intelligently as possible given the milieu. The script (co-written by Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues and Diablo Cody) is solid.
After some weird gear is found in the basement, including a patently evil “Book of the Dead” complete with barbed wire binding, spooky stuff starts to happen. Then it all goes to hell in a hand-basket, launching into a full-blown, out-and-out freak fest, complete with demons, witches, and zombies. Mostly demons.
Employing practical effects (only occasionally augmented with CGI enhancement), the supernatural murder and mayhem offers something truly garish and gruesome to behold… not since “The Shining’s” elevator scene have I seen so much blood (in fact, the forest even rains red at one point). Bodies – living, possessed, and dead – are violated in all sorts of ways, ranging from tree-limbs to chainsaws to nail-guns to fireplace pokers and even an electric carving knife. Not a single punch is pulled.
And yet, while visually more violent and destructive than, say, a “Saw” or a “Hostel” movie, “Evil Dead” feels less skeevy. It’s not an exploitation film; it’s old-school horror.
Fans of the original films will enjoy the nods (mounted 8-point stag’s head, Oldsmobile, verbal asides), but as I said: “Evil Dead” is its own beast. It’s not especially terrifying (very few films are, these days… then again, “Evil Dead” is not meant to be another “Exorcist”, or even “The Orphanage”) or shocking (nope, it’s not “A Serbian Film”) but it is quite visceral.
The film is deftly directed, beautifully shot (yep: we’ve got some zoomy demon-POV), and well-acted. Each person gets their own moments to shine, especially Levy and Fernandez, but in my opinion it’s Pucci who steals the show.
Although the story is short and the action relentless, it does start to sputter toward the end (and what’s more, it goes on for just a beat or two too long after a more decisive cut would’ve had greater impact). But overall, “Evil Dead” is, indeed, groovy.
Be sure and stick around for the post-credits cookie.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson