Anyone who saw “Scream 4” likely remembers the scene where Hayden Panettiere lists off every horror remake to come out in the past decade, from “Halloween” to “Friday the 13th.” So many of these remakes failed due to a lack of passion on the filmmaker’s behalf. Making a good movie was only their second priority, right after cashing in on an exhausted franchise’s good name. The new “Evil Dead” movie is the rare exception. It’s obvious that director/screenwriter Fede Alvarez has great admiration for Sam Raimi’s beloved cult classic. Along with co-writers Diablo Cody and Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez produces the best contemporary “Evil Dead” movie possible.
This “Evil Dead” is equal parts a remake and a stand-alone sequel to the 1981 movie. Jane Levy is Mia, a drug addict who wants get clean. Along with a few friends played by Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore, Mia travels to a family cabin in the woods where she can go cold turkey. Also among Mia’s support group is Shiloh Fernandez as David, her estranged brother. As you can probably guess, the young adults stumble upon the “Book of the Dead” and accidentally awaken an evil demon. This amounts to bloodshed, vomit, arm amputation, and all that other good stuff.
Alvarez’s movie revisits many plot points of earlier entries, such as the POV camera shots, the creepy basement, and the raping tree. The film never comes off as an overly familiar, unnecessary retread, however. There’s just the right balance of old and new to produce something nostalgically fresh. Whether you’re a diehard fan of this series or have never seen the original trilogy, it’s a bloody good splatterfest for everyone.
If there’s one downside to this new installment it’s that the picture doesn’t have quite as many laughs as something like “Evil Dead 2.” There’s still a fair deal of humor here, but much of it is derived from tragedy as apposed to cartoonish absurdity. Watching Fernandez hopelessly patch up his friends with duck tape shouldn’t be funny, but somehow it is. What the film lacks in ridiculousness, though, it more than makes up for in craft, thrills, gleeful gore, and plenty of applause worthy deaths. “Evil Dead” might not live up to its poster, which reads, “The most terrifying film you will ever experience.” Yet, it is one that will likely leave you sleeping with the lights on.
It’s also nice to see a horror movie with real characters and not just stock archetypes. Like Bruce Campbell’s Ash, these are people we sincerely care about and like. This is thanks to the attentive writing and strong performances, especially Levy’s inspired turn. Levy is wonderful as the smart, sarcastic outsider on “Suburgatory.” Here she’s frightening, sympathetic and fearless in taking on anything the filmmakers throw at her. It’s a performance reminiscent of Linda Blair’s immortal work in “The Exorcist.” Levy won’t win major awards for this role, but this should definitely be the start of a promising film career for her.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.