I almost didn’t see this movie. I grew up with the original series as a solid foundation for my love of horror films. I will just say, nothing can replace the original The Evil Dead (1981) and its sequels, though I do think there’s a place for updating a type of story for a new audience that is likely to be scared by different things, generationally. So, I usually end up watching these films thinking, “these aren’t for me, let’s see what they did right.” I did this with Evil Dead (2013) and will have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the time the film got into the action.
The film starts off sharing a backstory as a bit of foreshadowing, explaining to some degree what had come before. A father and a crone wielding the necronomicon are burning his possessed daughter alive in the basement to purify and exorcise the demon within her. I find that remakes love to do this, and I think it hurts a franchise to a degree, making sequels feel tacked-on. The original film doesn’t really hint at the backstory until later in the film, and even then it’s with a recorded tape found in the basement with the book. It also retains a lot of unknowns and causes the environment and the woods to seem a lot more inherently evil, whereas the remake seems to suggest that the girl, the book, and her father were brought to the cabin to exorcise her. That’s a minor storytelling gripe, and the writer’s choice, I just wanted to make note of it…
One of the first things I noticed when the film started is that they were focusing on the character of Mia, and my gut reaction was “she’s going to be the one to survive this film.” There’s a horror formula these days that often suggests that the strong female character is going to survive, and that the male lead will probably sacrifice himself right at the end. I’m okay with this, but I also felt weird calling it so early.
It was probably smart to focus on Mia (Jane Levy), because she carried the movie. Her ability to go from calm and collected to completely possessed and terrifying was impressive, and I really enjoy when actors aren’t afraid to get downright ugly. The story revolves around the idea that Mia has been brought to this cabin to dry out and go through withdrawal from drugs, and her four friends are there to help her. Her four friends were classic horror fodder. And to be honest, they didn’t seem very helpful to Mia, leaving her alone a lot more often than made sense to me. If I was going through withdrawal, I’d want a lot of distractions, not be left alone in a room screaming in pain most of the time. Admittedly, they were all pretty great by the time they were possessed.
So I continued to criticize the movie for quite awhile, up through the discoveries in the basement, the reading of the necronomicon, up through Mia’s initial possession, up to the shower scene. During this entire build-up, I noted that the director constantly threw in homages to the original, including camera techniques, perspectives, lighting, and even lines. The attention to detail to make the cabin feel similar to the original was fun to see, down to the drag marks on the floor near the basement entrance.
Let me get a few more gripes out of the way before I talk about how much I ended up enjoying the movie: I definitely prefer the original white, puffy eyes over the orange contacts they were wearing in the new film, but at least they weren’t sliding around in their eyes. The fact that I almost bought those same contacts in high school broke my immersion a bit. Also, jump scares. Stop trying to make me jump when that thing wouldn’t actually make a noise like that. Luckily, most of the jump scares faded away by the time the possessions were going full force. Also, using lines that sound like they were ripped straight out of The Exorcist is pretty lame. They also felt like they had been edited in post-production to get a lower rating. Namely, there was a line: “I can smell your filthy soul.” that felt a little wrong, because that girl’s soul wasn’t even filthy yet. Clearly they meant to say “I can smell your filthy cunt.” Seriously guys, you just don’t say “filthy” in horror movies without talking about vaginas.
Then I stopped criticizing the movie and actually started enjoying it. Maybe enjoying it isn’t the word. Wanting to cover my eyes? Yeah. It was around the time that Olivia went into the bedroom and stopped like she had suddenly been taken over by a profound force. It was creepy. And from then on it just got disgusting. I was taking notes at the time so I could remember details, and I just kept writing things like “Aaaah! The tongue!” and “Aaah! The arm!! Aaaaaah!” followed by “Aaaaah! The hand! And the arm! What am I watching!? wtf!” It became fantastically gross once the characters started mutilating themselves and others, and extremely graphic. Where an old movie would pan away and show the character’s face being splattered with blood while her arm is being cut off, Evil Dead (2013) shows her sawing the whole damn thing off with a meat slicer from the 70s, diagonally, so it takes even longer. It’s actually somewhat amazing how real it looks, and this sort of thing happens constantly in the movie at a certain point. There were a few scenes that were just plain horrifying to watch, and did some very new things. Whoever was in charge of the special effects/makeup department was incredible.
By the end of the movie, I was generally sold on it, and it had become one that I would recommend to people that I know would enjoy a creepy, try-not-to-look-away gore fest. The movie wasn’t really scary, per se, but I don’t really think the new generation likes scares and suspense as much as they like to feel uncomfortable, so that’s okay. I really enjoyed it, although it completely stripped the humor and quirkiness from the originals. There are more than a handful of really fantastic horror moments that I won’t forget, which makes this film a success in my eyes.
One thing I did want to note is that I find it really fascinating that American horror films have basically adopted the onryō, or vengeance ghost, from Japanese horror films. You know, the girl with long, stringy, black hair over her face that crawls around or lurks in the shadows. This is not the first time I’ve seen it recently, and I like to think that she’s becoming part of our cultural mythology.
So, a quick TL;DR:
Pros: Jane Levy is fantastic as Mia and pulled off a wide range of crazy. If you like gross-out, bloody, graphic horror films, it’s fantastic. Amazing, creepily realistic special effects. Overall, a pretty great horror film. Not a masterpiece, but good, violent fun.
Cons: A few needless jump scares, almost-forgettable side characters, some derivative lines, orange contacts. But it all gets better by the time people start mutilating themselves.