It’s no easy feat to pull off “Evil Dead” in 2013; not only is director and co-writer Fede Alvarez‘s film treading on the sacred ground of Sam Raimi‘s 1981 horror classic “The Evil Dead,” but he’s also following up last year’s “The Cabin in the Woods,” which brilliantly celebrated and skewered the tropes of Raimi’s movie and the many copycats which followed.
Even with all of that cultural baggage, however, “Evil Dead” (which Raimi co-executive-produced) pours on the scares as thickly as it pours on the fake blood, and there’s definitely a plethora of both. This isn’t just the scariest movie in recent memory, it’s also the most viscous.
Mia (Jane Levy, playing a character as far removed from the snarky lead of “Suburgatory” imaginable) has come to her family’s remote, um, house in the forest, in an attempt to detox from drugs and go cold turkey. Helping her in her cause are childhood friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) — who have seen Mia fail in previous attempts at sobriety — and Mia’s estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).
The phrase “battling her demons” becomes literal when schoolteacher Eric can’t stop himself from opening and reading a creepy, flesh-bound book they discovered in the basement (alongside a bunch of dead cats), and as any horror movie fan knows, once you start incantating from tomes best left unopened, all hell literally breaks loose. (And thanks to the flooded roads trapping them, our heroes are soon battling hell and high water.)
First Mia gets possessed (and sexually assaulted by the underbrush), twitching and wreaking havoc on her friends, who mistakenly think she’s just battling the DTs. But the soul sickness starts spreading, and then the self-mutilation (and attempted mutilation of others) begins, and the nail guns come out, and before long it’s a free-for-all of gore and thrills.
And thrilling and gory “Evil Dead” is, from a prologue that hints at just how dangerous that book is all the way through to its literally blood-soaked climax. Alvarez (who co-wrote with Rodo Sayagues) doesn’t just drown us in Karo syrup, however — one of the film’s most frightening sequences involves a sharp object and a tender portion of the anatomy, and while we can’t see what’s happening, the sounds of it are absolutely horrifying. Whatever the foley artists scraped and squished together for that scene, it’s disgustingly effective.
Alvarez also offers up an interesting visual palette, with the colors getting more and more desaturated along the way until we reach the ending, where red suddenly plays a key role.
This “Evil Dead” doesn’t traffic in the wit that Raimi’s original trilogy delivered, and the characters don’t pop in the same way. (They’re not even as vivid as the ones in “The Cabin in the Woods.”) Still, Pucci and especially Levy create compelling, conflicted young people who aren’t just meat puppets.
If there’s a disappointment factor in “Evil Dead,” it comes at the climax, which features too many endings and too much backtracking on the previously laid down rules of the story. It hints at going to darker places than it ultimately dares traverse.
Still, if you’re looking for a movie that will make you hide your eyes and make embarrassing noises and toss your popcorn and cower in your date’s lap, “Evil Dead” churns out the terror.