This movie had a lot going against it. For one, it’s a horror remake. I don’t know if you’ve seen many horror remakes, but they’re often pretty terrible. Whether it’s the Amityville Horror (Ryan Reynolds was a bad choice) or The Fog (ditto Tom Welling), remakes rarely get close to the acclaim of their predecessors. Another notch against it is that it’s the first “cabin in the woods” movie to come out after Cabin in the Woods. It’s hard to make a specific genre horror movie directly after the release of a film that lampoons said genre. This was the problem with films like I Know What You Did Last Summer that came after the release of the first Scream movie. While IKWYDLS would have been considered a decent teen-slasher film in its own right, it didn’t help that everyone that saw it was rolling their eyes and thinking about the “rules of horror films”. With these two mountains to overcome, Fede Alvarez not only traversed these mountains, but left a trail of blood and guts that won’t soon be matched.
The premise starts out fairly routine, with five friends gathering at the log cabin of two of the main characters. While the regular formula would have these five meeting for a weekend of drinking and debauchery, these characters instead meet to help one of their own, Jane Levy with a haunting (that was the worst pun I have ever used) performance as Mia, overcome her drug addiction by helping her go cold turkey away from civilization. While activities start out fairly mundane, things pick up once the group finds a barb-wire and trashbag-wrapped book amongst 20 dead cats in the hidden basement. While the average 20-something would leave the book be and head back to the city for the traditional rehabilitation method, one member of the group instead opts to open the book, ignore the MANY warnings to the contrary, and read said book. At this point, all hell (literally) breaks loose.
What follows is a series of gruesome possessions that starts with Mia, who falls victim to a “forced demonic tree entry” (Rector said I have to keep my articles PG because his family might read this), which is an awesome homage to the original, without as much camp. This is where I believe Alvarez made a smart decision by making her an addict in the initial stages of withdrawal. For one, it used a real-life parallel which made an otherwise crazy situation somewhat relatable. Also, it allowed the rest of the group to doubt Mia as she complained about seeing bloody figures in the rain and feeling as if she is possessed by evil. I really appreciate this, because one issue I often have with horror movies is the fact that they refuse to believe their friend when they express fear of supernatural happenings. I never understand why these people tune out their friends who have no history of lying or psychosis, but I completely understand why the other characters would tune out Mia.
As the movie progresses, the blood, guts, and cringe-worthy moments rise. While I expected some top-notch gore (a promise this movie more than delivered), I was surprised at how well this movie used minimalist effects to achieve creepy results . One such effect is sound. While it is one thing to witness someone cutting parts of their face off with a mirror shard, it is entirely something else to hear the sound of bloody sawing as the camera slowly pans in to a darkened figure. Light was also used to the movie’s advantage, especially during scenes in the cabin’s basement. In one particularly dread-inducing scene, the only light to creep into the basement comes from cracks in the floor boards above, which allows you to see about ten percent of what is actually happening, and leaves the other 90 percent to your incredibly frightened imagination.
While most horror movies slowly wind down to an ending, Evil Dead chooses to ratchet up the horror, as well as my blood pressure, in the third act. While I’m obviously not going to ruin the ending, it’s roughly the equivalent of giving an 8 year-old with ADHD a bag of fake blood, a big gulp full of redbull, and a video camera. I mean this in the best possible way, because the end of the movie left me with clenched fists and a smile on my face. With his first feature, Alvarez has proven he has a place in modern horror and suspense. He’s like the best kind of magician, whose artful handling of the tricks in his arsenal (light, sound, and Jane Levy) lead to an impressive prestige. While a trick or two may not have been as impressive as the rest (seriously, who reads the book that says “do not read” in blood?), the entire performance was worthy of applause and intrigue.