SXSW: Evil Dead (***½)

220px-EvilDead2013PosterIn the immortal words of my Twitter account post-screening: “Evil Dead HOLY SHIT…I mean HOLY MOTHER FUCKING SHIT that was a fantastic movie.” Apologies to those who are offended by such language, but you are probably not the target audience this sadistically gory horror flick is going for anyway. Instead this blood soaked film is catering to those who like their gore gross and their films shocking. Evil Dead takes many of its cues from the original film but Fede Alvarez creates something entirely his own. In short, it’s easily the bloodiest studio film I’ve ever seen and a flat out riot to watch.

The film starts out with a prologue where in we see a girl get kidnapped by a couple of backwoods hicks. When she wakes up, she’s been tied to a post in the basement and a witch doctor tells her father he must burn her alive in order to purify her soul. After completing the act we smash cut to the present day where Mia (Jane Levy), Olivia (Jessica Lucas), David (Shiloh Fernandez), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) head to the cabin. What would a group of good looking kids be doing at a creepy cabin in the middle of nowhere? Turns out Mia is an addict and trying to quit cold turkey. An already monumentally hard task is made even more difficult when the group stumbles upon a basement full of dead cats and find the book that will unleash hell on earth. After Eric reads from the book, everything goes to shit and the group is forced to fight for their lives against an invader that is hell bent on killing them.

The script, for all its respect for the original film, is vastly different from the Raimi version. This film trades in much of the humor for blood and guts and a more harrowing tree rape sequence and sawed off faces and appendages being ripped off and nails being shot through heads and stabbing with hypodermic needles and other gruesome things that even the red band trailer won’t prepare you for. Did I mention blood? Because they must have used up the entire TriStar Films supply on this flick. For what it’s worth, Alvarez and Diablo Cody (who co-wrote the script) didn’t leave the tale devoid of humor entirely, just that much of the laughs are derived from one liners and sight gags.

The one qualm I had, and admittedly have for every film like this, is that the characters are so dumb you’d have thought they were being manipulated. This guy gets a book and everything from the barbed wire, tough plastic wrapping and writing in the book that says “Don’t Read This Book” is screaming this is a bad idea and yet the character decides to read it anyway. While the film makes him pay for that choice repeatedly, the script also doesn’t really allow any of the other character to call him out on his monumental mistake. There was also a disproportionate amount of violence done to the characters, as David doesn’t even receive a tenth of what the other characters go through.

But when your film is so competently directed, one can forgive these things. Fede Alvarez is one gifted director of horror and he knows exactly how to frame the action for maximum impact, making you squirm in your seat and scream out. What impressed me most about Alvarez was that he didn’t forget the artistry in favor for the shock as there are some stunning images in this film outside of the violent scenes.

Finally, I cannot fathom writing this review and not spending a few words on the wonder that is Jane Levy. Levy is a wonderful actress, as anyone who watches Suburgatory can attest to, and man does she more than excel here. She takes a crazy amount of punishment in this film and delivers one of the finest scream queen performances that I’ve seen.

If the SXSW crowd was any indication, Evil Dead should find a great reception once it hits theaters. It’s a gruesomely awesome ride that should appease horror fans and Raimi purists alike.