Appellate Judge Mac McEntire hopes the Book of the Dead isn't secretly a cookbook.
"There was something in the woods, David, and I think it's in here with us now."
We got a new Evil Dead movie in 2013. Produced by series' creator Sam Raimi and directed by newcomer Fede Alvarez, both men have said in interviews that this is not a remake, but is in continuity with the previous three films (not that this series ever had a lot of continuity to begin with, but whatever). Is this truly the next chapter that fans have long since salivated for, or is this one time that the dead shouldn't have stirred?
Facts of the Case
Mia (Jane Levy, Suburgatory) is an addict who has come to a secluded cabin to go get clean by going cold turkey, with the help of her friends and her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez, Red Riding Hood). A mysterious book is found in the cabin's creepy cellar, the woods outside the cabin appear to come to life, and it becomes clear that something is very, very wrong with Mia. Has she returned to drugs, or are all these strange occurrences caused by…the evil dead?
I'm torn. There's a lot to like about this new Evil Dead, but it doesn't quite come together as it could have.
While Sam Raimi's original three films—The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness—were very much horror comedies (the slapstick increasing with each), this new film takes the approach of playing the material straight. It's an intriguing idea. After all, the core concept of the original is pretty frightening, if you think about it. You and your friends are trapped in a remote location, being possessed by ancient evil, forcing you to kill them in order to survive the night. Real nightmarish stuff, so why not play it for all the horror thrills it can bring?
It's a great idea, but the final result doesn't reach the nightmarish intensity the creators were hoping for. While we get plenty of chases and screaming (not to mention hundreds of gallons of blood), the psychological component of the plot is lacking. The "an evil thing has taken over someone I care about" portion of the story—which should be incredibly potent, given the drug addiction metaphor in play—is fleeting, serving to propel the story ahead to the next gore gag.
One reason the scares don't have that "get inside your head" vibe is because the characters are so predictable. This is especially true of Mia's friend Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci, Carriers), the long-haired pseudo-intellectual type who finds the book and reads from it. This is what unleashes all the evil, and gives him the ability to deliver whatever exposition is needed about the plot's tissue-thin supernatural mumbo-jumbo. He's that character who does dumb things only because they further the plot along. When the audience is saying "Don't go in the cellar!", he goes down to the cellar. When the audience is begging "Don't read from the book!", he reads from the book. This type of character was long cliché back in the heyday of 1970s and'80s horror, feeling stale and outdated today. In this post-Scream, post-The Cabin in the Woods world, we expect more from our fright flicks than this.
Let me stress that I didn't hate the movie. There are positives. Evil Dead is a slickly made, good-looking film. The cabin's famous griminess is present, the foggy woods are foreboding, and fans will notice plenty of amusing Easter egg shoutouts to the original film; some obvious, some more subtle. Jane Levy is pushed forward as the film's breakout star, and she does a decent job of portraying the many tortures her character goes through—and inflicts—throughout the tale. Also excellent is newcomer Phoenix Connolly as a young girl caught up in these supernatural shenanigans. Though she only has a small amount of screen time, she makes the most of it.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, this standard def transfer gives us dark woods and red bloods, with rich vivid colors and deep black levels. The Dolby 5.1 track, in English, French, and Spanish, makes nice use of surrounds, offering up a clean and clear soundfield. Extras are limited three featurettes, focusing in on the production, the director, and Mia's transformation. Fans should know the Blu-ray version has additional bonus content not on this DVD, including a commentary track and a Bruce Campbell interview.
According to never-wrong internet rumors, Raimi and Alvarez have ambitious plans for this franchise, with a series of films the will eventually culminate in Mia meeting Ash (Bruce Campbell, Burn Notice), the hero of the original series. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen. Until then, this new Evil Dead is breezy bloody fun for diehard horror fans, but has little to offer anyone else.
The members of the jury became possessed and devoured each other while being sequestered, so we'll have to declare this one a mistrial.
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