When the highest praise you can offer a remake is that it doesn’t tarnish the memory of the original, that doesn’t exactly qualify it as a success. Fans of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic The Evil Dead won’t be offended by Fede Alvarez’s remake (which drops the definite article from the title), and some may even be entertained. But while Alvarez respects Raimi’s rudimentary story (five young people travel to a cabin in the woods, are attacked and possessed by demons), he misses the most important thing that Raimi accomplished: creating something original and innovative out of the most basic building blocks of horror.
Obviously a remake by its very nature isn’t original, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t do something new and exciting. Alvarez’s main contribution is to drain almost all of the humor from the story (which, to be fair, was at least partially a compensation for the original’s tiny budget) and replace it with buckets of blood. The Uruguayan director, who got the job on the strength of his viral-hit short film Panic Attack!, eschewed CGI in favor of practical effects, and he stages some gruesome set pieces as the main characters engage in sawing, tearing, slicing and otherwise mutilating themselves and each other.
So the cringe factor is high, which may be enough for some gore aficionados, but it doesn’t serve much of a purpose. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues augment Raimi’s crude plot by making the visit to the cabin not a carefree vacation but instead a forced detox for drug addict Mia (Suburgatory’s Jane Levy), accompanied by her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and their friends. The attempts to add character depth offer little resonance, although it’s possible to view Alvarez’s take on the film as a prolonged metaphor for narcotics withdrawal.
It’s also possible to view it as an empty exercise in gross-out tactics, which is probably the more accurate interpretation. Some of those gross-out tactics are effective, but none of them create the same level of excitement as Raimi’s scrappy, funny, weird little movie did, one audience member at a time, more than 30 years ago.