Director: Fede Álvarez
Studios: Ghost House Pictures, FilmDistrict, TriStar Pictures
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
Tagline: Fear What You Will Become
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, supernatural thriller, psychological thriller, possession, drama, action, gore
Scare score: C-
Plot overview: Five friends arrive at a secluded cabin in the woods to help Mia (Levy) quit and overcome her withdrawal from heroin. After discovering disturbing animal sacrifices and a mysterious and ancient text in the basement, a demonic force begins to possess and kill the group one by one.
This movie is tricky. Described by the director as a continuation of the original classic, my biggest complaint about this film is that in many ways it feels like another gritty, early 2000s revamp of a horror classic and yet doesn't have any of the bizarre humor that made the original stand out in the first place (although acting and effects are up to par with 2010s horror). For that reason, I feel this movie isn't super memorable. Case in point, I was watching it last night and it wasn't until about halfway through that I realized I'd seen it once or twice before. My bad.
That being said, lots of things about this not-quite-a-remake, 4th installment in the Evil Dead franchise are awesome. It's not for everybody, to be sure, but there is something so unrelenting about this movie—and about the nature of the horror which manifests in it—which keeps hitting you again and again practically from start to finish. The best thing this film does is maintain the gore-heavy nature of the original. Using really fun makeup and special effects—and only very minimal CGI—we are treated to tons of bloody, dirty, sharp, gut-wrenching gore that is pretty similar (if less campy) than the original's. There are also tons of great nods throughout the film, which isn't too surprising given that the producers of the original films were on this project as well (Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert G. Tapert). It's a rehash of the original in many ways, but even Ash's car is still there, the chainsaw of course, and at one point we see a Michigan sweater, like in the original, because Raimi and Tapert both went to Michigan State, Campbell also went to college in Michigan, and all three were born in the Great Lakes State. I love when creators pay homage to their own upbringings, and Michigan specifically seems to be hot in recent years, such as in It Follows or in another Fede Álvarez-directed thriller (also starring Levy), 2016's excellent Don't Breathe.
I didn't think this new take on The Evil Dead was scary whatsoever, and I was going to give it a lower Scare Score, but then I thought more specifically about some of the action-packed scenes in this movie that, while not scary in your typical sense, were kind of horrifying in their brutality. Like the first film, the horror-action is pretty relentless once the incantation is read from the Naturom Demonto, this installment's version of Lovecraft's infamous Necronomicon. Unfortunately it all feels a lot more pointless than the way the first movie did it, and while I enjoyed watching all the projectile vomiting and cutting or tearing off of various limbs, I really didn't enjoy the so-called Abomination. Sort of fell flat and felt like stuff we've seen in other films like The Ring or The Grudge. On the other hand, I enjoyed when the characters were becoming possessed. That to me was creepier than the evil entity itself, and in some ways more well done than the original.
I really thought there was some strong acting in this movie. I wasn't anticipating this, because the setup and mood really felt a lot like some of those subpar 2000s revamps of other horror classics, and the horror culture at that time certainly did not emphasize acting compared to other things like looks. Really enjoyed the handsome Shiloh Fernandez as the calm and caring older brother, even if he got a little dim at parts. As in most movies like this, each character got a bit conveniently dumb (feels like Cabin in the Woods at play) at times, including the heavily-criticized Eric (Pucci)—who was probably my least favorite of the bunch—who immediately reads from the Naturom Demonto even though he knows it's an awful idea. The real star of the movie is Jane Levy as Mia, who keeps us entertained the whole time as she moves from emo/traumatized to violent withdrawal/psychosis to demon-possessed to badass final girl.
As in the original, this continuation employs unrelenting horror to disgust and terrify audiences. Does it work? In some ways, it's more refreshing than the first, which is admittedly cornier with more syrup-heavy fake blood and colorful gore. This version wanted to go darker, and it certainly did that, but I feel it missed out on the great cinematography and creative violence of the first. The film ends up serving as a sort of grittier tribute that takes itself too seriously (I hate the movie poster so much). Still, I appreciate the sheer volume of violence and gore it offers once the demons are released. When it comes to the sexual violence in the film—which has taken a thornier turn for the worse—the same questions are raised: What is the purpose of the violence? Is it to terrorize us further or is it simply a shock factor? This time around, it was less explicit, with more of a sci-fi possession twist going on.
Final critique: It's no surprise that a modern take on The Evil Dead was going to happen eventually, so it's a good thing it was done with as much respect and detail as this version, which had the guidance of the original team. At first it may feel like a forced and darker version of the original, but eventually the sheer action and gore help stand this film on its own two feet, although fans of the first will miss the dark and slapstick humor that made it a cult classic. If you can't do gore, stay away from this film, which has it in spades. Otherwise, this movie isn't spectacularly scary, and if it weren't for the name and history attached to it, it feels pretty forgettable.