Remakes are tricky to get right, not just because they’re setting themselves up for comparison to another, usually better, film, but because they have to figure out how to put their own twist on a pre-established property. “Evil Dead,” billed as a rebirth of Sam Raimi’s horror classic, struggles to get out of the shadow of its predecessor. But when it’s doing its own demented, horrifically violent thing, “Evil Dead” is a visceral, visually impressive slaughterhouse ride bathed in blood and guts.
Unsurprisingly, “Evil Dead” finds a group of teens headed out to a cabin in the woods. They’re not venturing to the outskirts of civilization to drink and have sex. They’re going to get heroin addict Mia (Jane Levy) sober, whether she likes it or not. Once Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) makes the tragic mistake of reading from the gruesome Book of the Dead, demons begin encroaching on the gang’s already challenging weekend.
The idea of bringing characters face-to-face with their inner demons while literal ones come crashing through the door is a smart, original departure from the source material, but “Evil Dead”’s script, co-written by Diablo Cody, Rodo Sayagues and director Fede Alvarez, doesn’t do much with its intriguing initial hook. Interesting character arcs are set up but ultimately scuttled, and Jane Levy only gets to play vulnerable and terrified before being stuck in a basement for most of the film. “Evil Dead” attempts to cast Mia’s brother, played by Shiloh Fernandez, as the hero, but he fails to leave any kind of impression, creating a vacuum that Alvarez fills with a shower of blood and guts.
“Evil Dead” may be the single goriest film ever released by a major studio, or at least since “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” and the heights of brutality the film goes to are ridiculously audacious, unleashing a relentless barrage of carnage on the audience. The violence escalates throughout the film until blood is literally pouring from the sky at its climax, and it’s an increasingly uncompromising, gleefully gory experience. With Lou Taylor Pucci’s character unintelligently unleashing the demons, Alvarez loads heaps of punishment onto the unlucky actor, whose wry performance perfectly embodies the tone “Evil Dead” is reaching for.
Despite the incredibly high gore quotient, “Evil Dead” isn’t an ugly film. In fact, Alvarez, making his feature debut, packs in lots of striking images, especially in a bracing opening sequence. The cabin in the woods has never been quite so lovingly rendered, but Alvarez also treads into familiar territory a bit too happily. The original “Evil Dead” masterminds, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, remain intricately involved on this one, and there are several moments that call back to the original film a bit too explicitly. While it’s always entertaining to have a character sever her own arm under extreme, supernatural duress — a scene that climaxes with a memorable, profoundly disgusting sight gag — moments of “Evil Dead” are in the film solely because they also existed in the original, which makes it occasionally overfamiliar.
The original “Evil Dead” could play as a schlocky comedy or a bone-chilling horror film depending on the context you watched it in. This new incarnation is a purebred crowd pleaser and should absolutely be seen in a sold-out theater, but it’s not hard to imagine the film’s whirlwind of evisceration and dismemberment striking some genuine fear into viewers watching on a small screen late at night. While its character work is sloppy and incomplete and it lifts a few too many beats from the film that inspired it, “Evil Dead” is a total blast — a bloodbath that will satisfy even the most weathered horror fan.