Joshua Reviews Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead [SXSW 2013 Review]


Horror remakes are like gore-fueled weeds. Throughout the past decade, what with the rise of houses like Platinum Dunes and the ever growing interest in genre fare, it seems like one can’t turn around in this film world without bumping into yet another remake of a horror classic. And now, it’s Evil Dead’s turn to be thrust back into the public eye with its very own remake/re-imagining.

Except this time it’s done to near perfection.

Taking on a classic isn’t a small task, so director Fede Alvarez brought with him a cast of superb up and coming actors, as many practical effects as a human can carry and a screenplay from the ever growing Diablo Cody, and firmly cemented himself as one of horror’s leading voices in what is slowly becoming something of a golden age for those looking to get past the dumped-in-January shlock and dig into some true, blue, horror cinema.

Here’s a briefing for those who may need it. This take on the iconic Sam Raimi-directed tale follows the story of four friends, looking to help a fifth kick a drug habit. When the want-to-be-recovering addict’s long estranged brother decides to show up, their collective words are turned upside down, only to have the situation worsened by a pesky demon looking to drag all of their souls directly to hell. Blending the occasional CGI shot with as superb a collection of practical effects as this generation has seen, Evil Dead is everything anyone could ever want out of a new take on the Raimi scenario.

In a film as star making and star studded as anything around, Alvarez is easily the film’s most important aspect. Coming off of as talked about a short film in Panic Attack as anything around, Alvarez was handed the keys to the series, and makes his mark not only on the series, but on horror in general. Every beat here, aesthetically, works like a well oiled machine. From the kinetic action/horror set pieces all the way to the gruesome but unflinching sequences of full on practical gore effects, the film may lack in genuine frights, but it makes up for it in audacity, mood, atmosphere and scope.

The below the line crafts are also absolutely superb. Bryan Shaw’s editing is apparently clear but adds a great deal of emotion (be it humor or terror) to a film so deeply reliant on mood, pacing and atmosphere. Aaron Morton’s photography is drenched in mud, using muted earth tones to evoke the grunginess of a rain soaked forest, which also allows for the bright red blood to truly pop off the screen in ways that we haven’t seen in years. And there is a lot of it. Roque Banos’ score is fantastic and evocative, but it’s all about the visual effects. The use of practical effects is refreshing, and while it’s a dated technique today, in a world of CG heavy frightfests, it makes the film feel as fresh as a brand new blood squib. It also feels fresh due to the creativeness of the use of the effects. There are a handful of kills here with either a great build-up, or a fantastic execution, that it oozes as much inventiveness as it does fake blood. With great pacing and enough blood to fill a small state, Evil Dead is as beautiful a piece of craft as it is a terrifying piece of horror cinema.

Performance wise, the film is hit or miss. Jane Levy comes out of this as an absolute superstar. She gives herself over to this character entirely, and her performance is deeply affecting. Shiloh Fernandez plays her brother, and their relationship feels a tad false and oddly toned. Nearly bordering on parody, the film relies heavily on these two and ultimately their brother/sister relationship, but it doesn’t have a single moment of truth or real emotion. Lou Taylor Pucci is a breath of fresh air as basically the audience’s proxy within the film, calling out the silliness of Fernadez’s David and his “it’s going to be alright attitude” and the situation at hand, and has as many great comedic moments as anyone in the picture.

Also, the tone will not be for everyone. The film is incomprehensibly violent. How this is an R-rated film that the MPAA passed, I will never truly understand. Over the span of its roughly 80 minute runtime, the blend of the sound design, score and Alvarez’s unwillingness to back down, the film ultimately becomes a deeply troubling piece of gore cinema that had people in the lobby due to its intensity. However, what makes this different from equally abrasive films like Hostel is that it entirely works. Alvarez doesn’t seem to down talk the audience similar to a film like Haneke’s Funny Games, nor does he turn it into comedy in the way the first film did. This is as serious as a heart attack, and the audacity of that is both admirable and intensely refreshing.

Written by Cody, Alvarez and writing partner Rodo Sayagues, Evil Dead may lack a real heart or anything resembling an emotional core, but it makes up for it in sheer audacity. Bleak as hell, and even more so relentlessly gorey, this film will be just what the doctor ordered for a generation of horror fans who have become fed up with CGI blood and those looking for something that is simply genuinely frightening. Aggressive, brutally unflinching, and with a mix of fan service and a fresh tone, Evil Dead is simply the horror film that we have all be waiting for. Thematically the film is entirely vapid, but for those looking to have their senses assaulted in ways horror cinema hasn’t seen in years, then this is the first must-see picture of 2013.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.