“Leave this book alone,” warns scrawled handwriting across the pages of the barbed wire-bound Naturom Demonto at the center of Fede Alvarez’s relentlessly gory Evil Dead reboot. Seems pretty clear to me. Alas, even the nerdy bookworm (Lou Taylor Pucci) in this inferior horror update appears illiterate. And so, let the carnage commence.
I’ve made no secret of my distaste for “torture porn” flicks like Saw, Hostel, and now Evil Dead. I simply don’t see the appeal in a film with no gimmick other than brutally torturing all of its characters in place of plot. Sam Raimi’s original was different; sure, it wrought havoc on an unsuspecting group of college students, but it did it with style and slick, dark humor. Unfortunately, all of that wry self-awareness has been sucked out of this new, darker Evil Dead, replaced only by buckets upon buckets of blood.
Make no bones about it, Evil Dead is one of the most repressively violent and gory horror films ever made. It positively wallows in the misery of its characters, putting each of them through the cinematic equivalent of a meat grinder. Nothing is off-limits as far as the violence goes. Mirror shards, razors, nail guns, shotguns, crowbars, and (of course) a chainsaw are all utilized in sickening ways. It’s not so much exhilaratingly gory as unabashedly gross.
Another level on which Evil Dead fails to entertain is the intelligence of its characters. Say what you may about me looking for logic in a movie called Evil Dead, but just about everyone in this movie is relentlessly, mind-numbingly stupid. A clever set-up shifts the characters from taking a vacation in the woods to setting up camp away from civilization in order to help a drug-addled friend (Jane Levy) go cold turkey, but when all of the limb-hacking and demonic possession kicks in, it’s difficult to buy that anyone in the group, even vacuous protagonist David (Shiloh Fernandez), would attribute it to withdrawal.
Yet dismiss it they do at first, until the brutality inflicted on the characters by a filthy-mouthed she-demon reaches levels even they can’t ignore. But by then, all that’s left for them to do is die in ludicrously bloody ways. To be fair, blood has more screen-time in this movie than any of the actors. Still, it would be nice, for once, to find a horror movie filled with good actors who play reasonably smart characters.
Instead, we get one great performance and a host of mediocre ones. Suburgatory‘s Jane Levy, playing recovering smack-head Mia, is terrific both as a girl disillusioned with the world around her and, when possessed, as a gleefully evil demon bent on the destruction of everything around it. Sadly, the other characters are as one-dimensional as the pages of the Naturom Demonto, communicating nothing convincing apart from terror. The worst of the bunch is the dull Shiloh Fernandez, miscast in a lead role. Nothing he says is convincing, and some of his decisions are so moronic that some might actively start campaigning for his violent death.
Perhaps mediocre performances would be more acceptable if Evil Dead delivered some scares or humor with its gore. Shockingly, there’s neither. Alvarez is far too focused on bloodshed to build any sense of dread, and the script is utterly lacking in the tongue-in-cheek humor that made the original a cult classic. As a result, we’re left with a film that calls itself Evil Dead but shares almost none of the same DNA. If relentless gore is your style, by all means, check out Evil Dead. It does gross extremely well. But if you’re looking for anything more, this remake is dead in the water. C-