Expectations and hopes are a tough thing to overcome.
When I first heard that they were remaking the original 1981 The Evil Dead, and more importantly that the original director Sam Raimi and the original star of the feature (and cult hero) Bruce Campbell were involved, I was really, really hoping this remake would be good.
When it was released, I was dying to see it in the theaters but, as has happened all too often, I simply didn’t have the free time available to make the trip to my local cinema. I did read some reviews and became…concerned. On Rotten Tomatoes the film scored a decent 62% positive among critics and a similar 68% positive among audiences. While these scores were enough to label the film “fresh”, the rating was hardly a strong endorsement. Nonetheless, I had to see it for myself. When it finally reached the home video market, I gave it a twirl.
So…what did I think?
In a nutshell: Not all that much, alas. On a four star scale, with four being a “classic”, I’d give the film at best two stars. I can only recommend it to fans of the original series who absolutely, positively have to see the remake. Others may want to avoid it and stick to the originals.
Longer review follows…
BEWARE OF SPOILERS!!!!
Unlike the original film, 2013’s Evil Dead is first and foremost a gore fest. Its main goal and purpose appears to be to try to gross you out as much as possible while, here and there, giving small and larger shout outs to the previous Evil Dead films. Yes, we have friends going to a cabin in the woods for a weekend. Their purpose to go there is because one of their group, Mia (Jane Levy), is a drug user and the group of friends along with her somewhat estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) want to force Mia to go through a “cold turkey” weekend and hopefully kick her habit.
On its surface the drug element is interesting but, as the movie plays out, it ultimately is just an excuse to justify why the soon to be un-happy campers stay at the cabin a little longer than they should have. For you see, it is Mia who first notes the strange things going on in this cabin and is the first to see the ghostly images…and when she tells her friends what she sees, they excuse it as her attempts to get out of the cold turkey treatment and back to more friendly environs.
Anyway, the proverbial shit hits the fan and our group of friends are knocked off one by one in very brutal ways. Unfortunately, between the start of the film and that point we get so little characterization and therefore develop so little empathy toward most of the group. Most woefully underwritten is Elizabeth Blackmore’s Natalie. I wasn’t sure exactly what her relationship to the others was, other than that she just happened to be present. Despite this, she is given the “honor” of replicating one of the more (in)famous sequences in the original Evil Dead 2.
Speaking of which, of the other characters the one that is perhaps the better developed is Olivia (Jessica Lucas). She is the nurse and friend who watches over Mia and, unfortunately, is also the one who tells the others they need to be strong and remain through the cold turkey session. However, she’s also the very first to pass on. A real shame as she, more than the others, elicited sympathy…at least from me. If only the director had made her the secondary lead!
And that brings us to perhaps the film’s greatest problem: Just who is the lead? Reading up on the film before its release, it was noted many times that this film would give us a “female” Ash (Ash, of course, is the Bruce Campbell character from the original Evil Dead films). From the beginning it was clear Mia was intended to be the protagonist.
As mentioned, however, she is the first to see and feel the “evil dead”, whereupon she’s completely taken over by them. What winds up happening is that she spends most of the film “possessed” and then locked away in the basement while the others are being picked off one by one. During that section of the film, the longest part of the film, Mia’s brother appears to be the protagonist. But since I already knew Mia was the central character, as the minutes pass I grew more and more impatient to see her do something -anything!- other than be locked up in a basement.
She is supposed to be the female Ash after all. Let’s see her do something!
Alas, it isn’t until all but her brother are dead that she “comes back”. Even then, however, her fight against the resurrected demon is (natch) gory but not all that exhilarating. We even get a repeat -of sorts- of the Evil Dead 2 gag mentioned above (twice in one movie?!), but it plays out rather ridiculously. The movie ends and we get the credits. You stick around until they’re over and you get perhaps the movie’s best scene, a very tiny cameo by Bruce Campbell himself.
All right, so the characters are weak and the movie’s focus appears to be more on the gore than anything else. On the positive side, the direction is quite good and the effects are damn good. As with many films that have left me wanting in the past, the main problem appears to once again be a script that could use a little more work.
Evil Dead isn’t a terrible film, just not a terribly good one either. As a fan of the original Evil Dead series, perhaps there’s a little bias in my views. Regardless, I came in hoping for the best and felt, when all was said and done, that this film could have been a lot better than it ultimately was.