Editorial: Missing the Mark: Why Evil Dead 2013 Doesn't Work
This piece contains some spoilers. When referring to Sam Raimi’s film, I will use “The Evil Dead,” while the remake will dispense of the definite article.
The notion of remaking Sam Raimi’s seminal 1981 splatterfest The Evil Dead was met with derision by many fans as soon as it was announced; the subsequent news that Ash would not be in the film certainly didn’t help assuage their fears. To die-hard fans, The Evil Dead IS Ash, his absence rendering any attempt to reboot the franchise a pointless endeavor. As the film went into production with an untested short film director at the helm, opinions were tempered as news and footage slowly revealed the film to be something to get excited about. It was dark, it was violent, and perhaps most importantly, Bruce Campbell gave the film his blessing, ensuring us that Fede Alvarez had crafted a suitable follow-up to The Evil Dead, yet with a number of crucial changes to distinguish itself from being a mere copy. The final product, however, is a different beast entirely.
Alvarez created a pastiche that, although visually impressive, fails to be fully reconciled with the changes he made to the story. One such change is the set-up, which sees the addition of a subplot surrounding a forced detox, rather than a simple vacation, to get the quintet into the cabin. Addicted to drugs, Mia meets her brother David, his girlfriend Natalie, and friends Olivia and Eric at the cabin in a final attempt to break her habit cold turkey. In the throes of withdrawal, Mia begins to see and hear things, and, convinced she’s losing her mind, makes an attempt to escape before crashing the car into a lake. Meanwhile, the group discovers the Naturon Demonto and, as the resident academic, Eric feels compelled to examine it, unwittingly unleashing the demonic force spoken of in the book. It becomes drawn to Mia, tracking her down and possessing her in cringe-worthy fashion, kicking off a deluge of blood and violence that puts the original film to shame.
Perhaps the most striking difference between the two films is tone. While The Evil Dead is a horror movie through and through, Raimi’s love of The Three Stooges peeks modestly through the fountains of blood to provide subtly comedic elements that are not brought front and center until The Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn. The remake contains some humorous lines (Diablo Cody’s contributions can be pointed out with ease), but rarely is there an attempt to approach everything with the sort of levity brought about by the original’s low budget, its somewhat comical effects, and Bruce Campbell’s natural comedic sensibilities. As such, some of the more objectively weaker parts of the original film can be forgiven, and in some cases seen as an advantage, due to the context in which it was made.
Read our Evil Dead review here!
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Evil Dead is not afforded this luxury. With a $17 million budget at his disposal, Alvarez opted for a grittier and darker aesthetic, amplifying the violence and gore and invoking gravitas over the playfulness seen throughout the original, however subdued it may have been. Raimi and Co. give off the vibe of simply having fun, whereas Alvarez, burdened by the weight of updating an important franchise, dispenses with frivolity in an attempt to craft a serious and dark film. Unfortunately, this amounts to less an update than it is an homage to practical effects, which in turn comes at the expense of story, characters, and dialogue.
Preceded by an unnecessary pre-credits scene to help establish the mythology of the book and the house, the first act comes off as rushed and disjointed, hitting the necessary beats - arriving at the cabin, finding the book, the initial possession - at breakneck speed before getting to what can ostensibly be considered the real reason people are seeing the film: pure, unbridled carnage. This causes the detox subplot to lack any real merit; by the time Mia is possessed, it’s all but completely abandoned in favor of gallons of fake blood. The subplot is essential to the characters’ growth, yet by ignoring it for most of the film Alvarez is diminishing Mia’s struggle and her relationship with David to nothing more than a lazily written pretext to get them into the cabin.