Rather than trying to top the original Evil Dead in the areas in which that 1981 movie, um, excelled (a frantic camera, comedic gore, Bruce Campbell), this hardcore remake focuses most of its attention on what was lacking: a story. And it works.
Sam Raimi’s first film set four college students in a secluded cabin with a book of demonic incantations because, well, that was all that was needed to unleash the grisly mayhem with which the movie was mostly concerned. The new Evil Dead, produced by Raimi and Campbell, his original star, has a far more intriguing setup: Mia (Jane Levy), a drug addict, has come to the cabin with her friends to try and go cold turkey.
Written by Diablo Cody, Rodo Sayagues and director Fede Alvarez, Evil Dead, then, is a blatant allegory in which drug addiction stands in for demonic possession (and vice versa). It’s easy, yet also in its own way brilliant, especially in the way it lends resonance to that most overused element of the horror genre: gore. After the buffoon in the group (Lou Taylor Pucci) recites a curse from the book aloud and Mia becomes possessed, she willfully stands beneath scalding hot water in the shower even as her skin bubbles and slides off. It’s a horrible image, and something like watching a drug addict in fast motion. After all, what is drug abuse other than the self-inflicted degradation of our own mortal flesh?
This hardcore remake focuses most of its attention on what was lacking: a story. And it works.
Alvarez and his screenwriters ride the allegory all the way through the film. After she turns violent against the others, Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) traps her in the cabin’s cellar. She begs to be let out, promising to be good – it’s an addict’s plea to her family for one more chance. Later, when the possession begins to spread to the others, it’s a reminder of the way addiction can bring ruin not only to the user, but to everyone who cares for them.
It’s helpful that Levy, as Mia, is talented enough to sell both sides of this allegory. Fragile and panicky at the story’s start, she deftly switches to being devious and terrifying later (especially when peeking out from that cellar). The movie’s best moment may be the one in which she’s caught between those two worlds, having experienced the cabin’s true horror for herself but unable to convince her friends of the danger. Mia begs David to let her leave, but he thinks she’s hallucinating. “Crazy withdrawal talk,” the others call it. Cowering in the corner of a bunk, her eyes register multiple levels of betrayal and terror.
Evil Dead has a blood-soaked epilogue that seems more intent on slaking the thirst of the franchise’s hardcore fans than pursuing the allegory that has thus far sustained it. Yet even there, in which Mia squares off against an embodied demon, the movie offers grimly amusing echoes, ones which help it stand out from the other horror remakes of late. You’ve heard of kicking the habit? Mia takes a chainsaw and cuts the habit’s legs off.