Superb horror in ‘Evil Dead’ (2013)

Carljoe Javier
The fresh, frightening remake of the cult classic will have you screaming in your seats, and maybe jumping out of them

PANDORA'S BOX. And of course he reads the book. All images from Facebook

MANILA, Philippines – If there were any doubts about an “Evil Dead” remake that strips away the charming camp of the Sam Raimi flicks, that finds the iconic Bruce Campbell absent (stick around after credits if you want to get a glimpse of the chin), then these doubts went up in flames with the chilling opening sequence.

With tight, frantic shots, the sense of dread and terror, the quick cuts and breathless camera work, this modern iteration of “Evil Dead” establishes itself as its own unique work. 

Of course people will miss the camp and humor of the original series. I am among those who were disappointed to hear that this is a “serious” remake. But more than being a remake, it is a film that is a product of its time. It takes everything that is available to the filmmakers, all the technology, the wealth of horror that has been made since the original, and a keen sense of awareness and self-referentiality, and builds something exciting and new.

BACK TO THE WOODS. Yeah, a weekend in the woods. It will be fun.

The problem with remakes is that they are often either slavish reconstructions of the original, or are modernized but sapped of the sensibility and spirit that made the originals so good. “Evil Dead” avoids these problems by bringing a freshness to the material. Where I think it gets it most right is that it approaches its material as if it were new, approaches everything, really, as if it were new. 

For example, it does not fall back on old cliches to get these kids into a cabin in the woods. We’ve seen the set up too often, now. And it was already brilliantly subverted by “Cabin in the Woods.” Here though, we have a real reason to be out there. Jane Levy’s Mia is a recovering addict whose friends have brought her out to the cabin in the hopes of drying her out. Her brother, Shiloh Fernandez’s David, shows up for a weekend in the woods, not knowing of the friends‘ plans nor of the depth of Mia’s troubles.   

It’s smart in that it provides a great reason for them to be out in the woods, and it adds to the complications of the film. As withdrawal sets in, Mia’s behavior becomes erratic, and the screaming, writhing, and other disturbing behavior can be attributed to her dealing with withdrawal. In the midst of that they find the cellar door, and then the chamber, and then the book. And of course, you know someone’s got to open up and read the book which has been buried deep and is marked all over with “Stop reading this” and, well, is just bad news all around for anyone who has sense enough to think about it. 

WHICH IS WHICH? Can't decide if she's possessed or just in withdrawal

We all know it. But the great thing about the movie is that even though it is filled with every single horror cliche, every single thing that we might have seen in horror flicks good and bad, the characters act as if they are totally unaware of it. It’s as if they are seeing it for the first time.

And here shines the brilliance of director Fede Alvarez. This first time director approaches every single shot with a freshness and confidence that makes you think he’s already a horror master. He liberally borrows from the Sam Raimi list of shots (“Evil Dead” fans will have a field day with all the references) but at the same time finds a way to make it seem as if it’s the first time we’ve seen them. It’s a process of discovery, but rather than seeing things that are entirely new, it’s seeing something we thought old and cliche suddenly made exciting and terrifying again.

This short film led to Fede Alavarez’s directing ‘Evil Dead’: 

Speaking of terror, this flick is not for the meek and easily queasy. It’s gory and features loads of body horror. There was a lot of groaning and writhing in the seats during the screening I watched. There’s stuff here that is just very difficult to look at.

It might feel gratuitous at times, but it all falls within the framework of the story. It goes to these things sparingly at first, but as the film escalates, things get sicker. All of this not merely for the sake of making us sick to our stomachs, but to heighten the sense of what is happening and to hammer (or nail, as you will see) home the points. 

One of the reasons I think the film was effective was its sparing use of CG. While there is some, the film mostly relies on good camerawork, a solid story, sound design, and some really gruesome prosthetics to convey dread and terror.

READY FOR THIS? You want to be done with your popcorn by the time this comes around

Further, there are some solid human relationships that drive these characters as they deal with a supernatural force. The movie manages to avoid flashbacks and — save a short and rather too expository scene at the beginning — it keeps moving forward, revealing character and intention and many other things as we move. Thus, it’s not just creepy shots and images, but also human conflicts that are at stake.

“Evil Dead” is a superb horror movie. In terms of film technique, it’s got it all down pat. But that skill is never showy, and serves to create a great horror film. It keeps us on edge with almost every scene, and leaves us chilled by the end.

The movie goes on and on, and you wish it would end, if only because you just can’t take it anymore. Oh, but it stretches you to the limits (and my, my, are there things being stretched to their limits throughout this film, too) and refuses to let you go. –

Carljoe Javier

Carljoe Javier doesn’t know why people think he’s a snarky film critic who spends his time dashing the hopes of filmgoers. He thinks he’s not all that bad, really. He teaches at the State U, writes books, and studies film, comics, and video games… Then again, those people could be right.

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