Cabins are never a good idea
By Vincent Abbatecola
In 1981, Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” reveled in its campy and occasionally frightening premise of five teenagers spending time in the woods in a foreboding and dilapidated cabin. Veering away from the psychotic slasher trope that became more popular in several horror films in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the “Evil Dead” teenagers had something different to be afraid of: demonic possession.
Last year, Drew Goddard’s horror comedy “The Cabin in the Woods” took a darkly comical approach to the clichés of teenagers-trapped-in-the-woods movies. These two films acknowledge their humor, and that’s what made them work. In director Fede Alvarez’s remake, “Evil Dead,” he takes an alternative approach to the original tone to make it more appealing to today’s audiences. While he adds a few of his own ideas to his version of this getaway-gone-wrong story, it doesn’t capture the absurd fun of Raimi’s film.
One day, a group of five friends decides to meet at an old cabin in the woods. Mia (Jane Levy) is brought there by the other four, including her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) in an effort to detoxify her from her drug addiction. While Mia experiences some negative effects from the withdrawal, the friends find an ominous book with strange contents.
After Eric translates and recites an incantation from the book, an evil spirit arises and takes possession of Mia. Now, the spirit will do what it can to kill them all so it can bring a hellish prophecy to fulfillment.
While most of the cast members are stuck as generic characters that don’t go much further than just simply being there to outrun deadly possessions, Jane Levy sells her fear and vulnerability. Her anguished screams of drug withdrawal and outright horror heighten the damaged nature of her character.
At times, Levy doesn’t even need to scream because the terror in her eyes says it all, particularly in a scene where her brother comes to check on her, and she’s huddled on her bed, looking closed off from everyone and everything around her, with eyes full of fright that are as open as they are willing to go.
The screenplay by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues makes certain changes that helps to distinguish itself from the original, such as not using the names of the characters from Raimi’s version, and giving the remake’s characters different names. A good thing too because trying to replicate Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams role wouldn’t go over too well with avid fans of the cult classic.
The remake also keeps the squirm-inducing “tree” scene. One clever touch is that Mia’s possession can be viewed as a metaphor for her drug addiction, both cases involving something harmful taking over her body. However, this film soon gives way to just being another exercise in the excess of blood and gore for horror viewers who are used to the brutality of the “Saw” and “Hostel” films. The scares, of lack thereof, basically come down to guessing how the characters will mutilate themselves and others when possessed.
Director Alvarez doesn’t keep the menacingly humorous tone that made the original fun and scary. Without that, the film is your average cabin-in-the-woods movie.
The film begins to feel like an empty experience once the story gets to the buckets of blood and depends on one over-the-top mutilation after another to bring out the shock. The final 10 minutes alone practically have the screen covered in red. What made “The Cabin in the Woods” work last year was that it spoofed these conventions in an original and darkly funny manner.
With “Evil Dead,” the film just reverts back to how, for some reason, the notion of characters being butchered in tremendously gory fashion is scary. One of the advertising slogans reads, “The most terrifying film you will ever experience.”
The problem is, what happens is only terrifying for the characters. Not for us.
Final grade: C