Dir. Fede Alvarez
3.5 out of 5
Getting to the good stuff in Evil Dead is its own mini-exercise in horror tension: the longer the wait, the more the pressure builds. This approach certainly heightens the intensity of its spectacularly squirm-inducing sequences, but, on the other hand, it also makes everything in between that much more tedious. At least the film starts with a bang. In an excellent misdirection, a girl running through the woods is captured by some malevolent-looking hillbillies and tied up in a remote cabin. However, it's quickly apparent that she's the evil one, possessed by a demon that's cast back into the netherworld via a bit of reverse witchcraft.
Time passes, and five twentysomethings converge on the same secluded cabin to help the youngest, Mia (Jane Levy), kick her drug habit cold turkey. First-time director Fede Alvarez (who co-scripted with his fellow Uruguayan Rodo Sayagues and an uncredited Diablo Cody) works unnecessarily hard to establish a logical framework, tossing in Mia's absentee brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), who also thinks it's a good idea to bring his new girlfriend to this impromptu family reunion-cum-intervention. It's particularly ludicrous in light of what's to come and in respect to Sam Raimi's original trilogy of gonzo bloodbaths - films that started from a place of wry self-awareness and got sillier as they went along.
Alvarez's Evil Dead has the latter in common with those films, at least. He's able to right the ship once all hell starts breaking loose and the others start believing in Mia's ramblings about a malignant presence invading their hermetic hideaway. Levy is a magnificent comedienne, whether being tortured by evil spirits summoned from a book of black magic, or in her possessed state as she taunts and infects the rest of the group with her wicked malady. And seasoned gore-seekers will appreciate the way the film tries to top itself with increasingly wild and ridiculous mutilations, dismemberment, and other extreme acts of violence.
Indeed, there's no question that the film is much better when it dispenses with the pretense of plot and gets down to bloody brass tacks. It's a lesson that Alvarez could learn from Raimi, who spruced up a stock premise with an inventive visual style and a memorable central star in cult icon Bruce Campbell. Evil Dead displays brief flashes of that devil-may-care spirit in Mia's demon prankster and in Lou Taylor Pucci's supporting turn as Eric, the stereotypical "brain" whose intellectual convictions are misguided at best and unbelievably stupid at worst. He's an infuriating but nonetheless hilarious and endearing character who the film thoroughly punishes for his mistakes. It's all the emotional shading the movie needs, even if Alvarez stubbornly tries to convince us otherwise. But nobody really wants to see that this Evil Dead has a heart - we just wanna see it get torn to smithereens.