Five friends in their 20s decide to spend a weekend at a remote cabin in the woods, where they joke about a book of satanic writings they find. There’s no phone service, no method of escape and no reason for any of them to think anything could go wrong.
Such a premise seemed fresh more than 30 years ago, when the The Evil Dead shocked moviegoers. But these days, the setup feels right off the assembly line.
That’s the predicament of the ultraviolent remake of Evil Dead, which strips away the tongue-in-cheek satire of its predecessor and settles for modern genre pandering aimed at fans of death, dismemberment, and unbelievable amounts of gore.
The claustrophobic setting and stereotypical characters lead into the story of Mia (Jane Levy), who becomes lost in the woods outside the cabin, and later possessed by the evil spirit of a woman with a tragic past. Mia wanders back to join her buddies in the cabin, and the countdown to carnage begins, although the line between dead and alive is blurred by the transfer of demons between bodies and whatnot.
The original Evil Dead movie trilogy, of course, launched the career of director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) and became a cult favorite for its gritty and subversive take on horror cliches.
This time around, the script by rookie Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez and his writing partner, Rodo Sayagues, tries a different approach with the same material, indulging in those same cliches while emphasizing the blood and guts. Perhaps that renders the remake a product of the times, but it’s also worse off for taking itself too seriously.
The bigger budget makes the new Evil Dead more visually polished, which doesn’t necessarily equate to more frightening. It’s occasionally creepy and ominous, but most often is more disgusting than scary. And the only laughs come from a recurring gag involving duct tape.
There are some stylish depictions of death and torture, and a harrowing final showdown that almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Yet for the most part, Evil Dead relies on familiar scare tactics, such as technical trickery, piercing music and people jumping out of the shadows. The new film pays tribute to its source material in the closing credits, issuing an unintentional reminder of how superior it was.
Rated R, 91 minutes.