Mia (Jane Levy, Suburgatory) is a troubled teen who wants to kick her narcotics habit, but she has failed before and her friends fear that she will again. They enlist the help of her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), who has been absent for a while but is determined to help his sister, even if it means locking her in a creepy old cabin belonging to their family somewhere in the Michigan woods.
Unfortunately for Mia, the cabin has become the site of some dark ritual, unleashing a demon that wants to consume innocent souls when it isn’t cutting or torturing bodies. It possesses her first, walking her into their midst to say “you’re all going to die tonight.” Spoilers follow, so read at your own risk.
This version of Evil Dead is of course a remake of the low-budget classic by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell, both of whom are executive producers on this version written and directed by newcomer Fede Alvarez. For a first feature, Alvarez does a good job under difficult circumstances, remaking a cult favourite that influenced a generation of filmmakers. In this respect he is far more successful than the directors of the remakes of films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Prom Night, Last House on the Left, Halloween… you name it.
The usual pattern for these remakes is to dress up the spare, low-budget original with more viscera, updated visual effects, and CW stars hoping to jump-start a film career. They fail, ultimately, because even a faithful adaptation has nothing new to offer either the jaded horror veteran or the novice; the movies just kind of lay there, trading on the fame of their predecessors but restricted by the same. Alvarez is sure to include all the little touches that the die-hards would expect, from Raimi’s old Plymouth to a tree rape to a scene with a chainsaw. I only minded these moments when it seemed like he was going through contortions to do so, which mostly happens in the finale. It is a gory film to be sure, but not gratuitously so, and perhaps not even as much as the original.
Unfortunately, it also just kind of lays there, and part of the reason for it this time is the lack of one element that was always going to be difficult to replace: Bruce Campbell as Ash. Campbell’s charisma, one-liners, and Three Stooges shtick made the original films as goofy as they were scary. That is what made those films work. Without that not so secret ingredient, this new attempt is not much different from any other dead-teenager movie; certainly no more enjoyable than, say, the remake of My Bloody Valentine.
There are fresh horror films out there, to be sure. Fans of the original Evil Dead films would almost certainly love both Cabin Fever films, as well other films by directors like Eli Roth or Ti West. Unfortunately, for all of its careful surface tribute, this update is just another addition to the pile of conservative corporate horror films, while the original was a groundbreaking poke in the eye of the Hollywood system. It has little energy, less joy, and no soul.