Well, the moment that Deadites have been waiting for for years is finally here, and everyone's wondering: does the remake (produced by none other than Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Rob Tapert) live up to the high standard set by the original two films from over twenty-five years ago?
The answer: Hell yes.
The plot and setup is nothing new; a small group of young adults visit an abandoned cabin, and unleash an evil presence from a book they find therein. And yet, because this is a reimagining of the film that pretty much started this trend in the first place, the generic-ness of the plot is entirely forgivable. The filmmakers were not trying to reinvent the wheel with this one. However, one thing that people seem to constantly be misunderstanding is that the remake was never trying to copy and paste The Evil Dead (humor and all) into a modern setting. Fans of the original can claim otherwise all they want, but the 1981 film featured undeniably humorous undertones, whether intentional of not. And this masterfully executed remake has been heavily criticized for not doing the same.
What is commendable about Fede Alvarez's feature debut is that it takes itself as seriously as it does. There are no geysers of blood erupting from the architecture, no possessed hands smashing dishes into the heads of their former owners. Instead, the film ops to make itself as realistic as its story and subject matter allows. For example, these are not five happy-go-lucky kids going on a "vacation" to a remote cabin in a desolate forest. Instead, there are four normal people there to support a fifth, who recently lost her mother and has become a drug addict. The entire cast does a pretty good job, but the breakout member is Jane Levy (who plays Mia, the lead character), expertly infusing desperation into a performance that is truly remarkable.
And yet, despite the commendable performances, I hardly think anyone is buying a ticket because of the actors involved. No, Evil Dead fans are the target audience, and one of the things the original was famous for is being one of the goriest movies ever made (for its time, at least), and the new Evil Dead continues that grand tradition. I believe that this film's level of violence is as high as can be without veering into over-the-top territory. Truly horrific things are done to the human body, many of which are guaranteed to make you cringe, and all brought to life by what are easily some of the best makeup and gore effects ever put to film. No CGI here, folks, only good old fashioned practical effects that are utterly, terrifyingly convincing. Just to give you a small taste of what one can expect, there is a scene in which a howling, possessed girl is set on fire by her sobbing father, who tops it off by exploding her head with a shotgun. All this occurs within the first five minutes of the film, perhaps a way to prepare audiences both physically and mentally for the atrocities that lie ahead.
Finally, the plot deserves to get a word in edgewise. While there is one major contrivance, it is certainly a plausible event, given what had happened prior to it. Other than that, there is little depth here, though there is certainly more backstory than there was in the original. Ever since the first teaser was released, certain shot have had people questioning its status as a remake, and whether or not it may in fact be a sequel to the 1981 original. I can say this: aside from a tiny handful of visual nods (as well as the very familiar-looking cabin), this is still a debatable question, and one that I am sure will be answered in the already-confirmed sequels.
So, the verdict. It's possible that some might wonder why I didn't give this a higher score. Well, I don't really think the film earned it. Deserved it? Possibly. But I am trying to be as objective as possible, so it gets what it gets. I will say that, as a big Evil Dead fan, that this film gave me exactly what I wanted. It neither exceeded nor fell victim to my expectations. It's a rare thing that a film delivers exactly what you want out of it, but Evil Dead did. This is a must see.