This review was originally published on March 9, 2013 as part of Film.com's coverage of SXSW 2013.
The downright gnarliest mainstream horror release in recent memory, “Evil Dead” is certainly a considerable and occasionally commendable dose of the ol’ ultra-violence, but Fede Alvarez’ Raimi-sanctioned update of 1981’s cult favorite only really has that demented determination going for it.
Mia (Jane Levy) encourages two friends -- pre-med Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and high school teacher Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) -- to accompany her out to her family’s cabin deep in the woods as she tries once more to kick her drug habit. Mia’s big brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), also shows up, with girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) in tow, and while the siblings try to put aside their recent estrangement, Mia’s friends want to ensure that her cold turkey routine sticks this time. Of course, once certain teachers get the bright idea to read aloud from a certain book of the dead recovered from the basement, Mia soon finds herself tormented and possessed by a demon whose erratic behavior her pals initially mistake for withdrawal-related crankiness.
The overhead shot of a flesh-bound book carefully placed on a table beside a shotgun and its shells has all the markings of a hellish-weekend starter kit, and the fact that the book itself is wrapped in both garbage bags and barbed wire to keep away the curious serves as an apt metaphor for this new take, one which manages to be both plastic and sharp. The first feature from director/co-writer Alvarez always takes careful care in framing carnage and casting shadows with an unflinching, nigh fetishistic eye, and the result is as slick as the first film was scrappy, emphasizing sheer audacity over spirited anarchy. With that in mind, said mayhem is indeed sickening stuff, an effective union of digital and (more commonly) practical gore effects with a particularly juicy sound mix, delivered at a relentless pace, and the fourth act (!) is somehow still a doozy despite the preceding parade of horrors. (FYI: stay after the credits.)
The re-established mythos may adhere to tidy symptoms and solutions for our characters’ demonic dilemmas, but hey, it’s just nice to see some kids actually take the time to read a book these days. (It should be pointed out that there isn’t a cell phone or any excuse for poor service in sight, a cliche refreshingly dodged via simple omission. Even the cars are just not-modern enough to suggest a time between now and the original’s era, although none are as dated as Sam Raimi’s precious Oldsmobile, making its requisite appearance here.) Levy and Fernandez are given much of what passes for heavy lifting with their strained relationship; every other character is in turn defined by Mia’s literalized junkie demons and their futile efforts to help, but not by much else.
Given the climax’s unexaggerated torrent of blood, and the film’s generally proud sense of punishment, it’s hard to imagine that the audience isn’t tweaking for their fix of the red stuff more than any character on-screen is. To echo the sensationalist sales pitch of the original (“The ultimate experience in grueling terror!”), this team has decided to run with the tagline “The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience.” For all its gruesomeness, there’s little here that actually terrifies, but let’s face it: “Modern Horror at Its Most Devoutly Masochistic” just isn’t quite as catchy.