Let's put it this way. There are two types of people in the world. Those who should under no circumstances, see the horror sequel/reboot Evil Dead and those who just gotta see it. In the former category, put formative and sensitive minds, as this hard "R" horror film will be outright traumatizing to many of them. In the latter category, put Fangoria subscribers who get off on trauma.
Based on Sam Raimi's charmingly raggedy 1981 debut film The Evil Dead (legendarily funded by Detroit dentists and doctors), Fede Alvarez's cover version is a different beast. Whereas Raimi's initial Evil Dead gave off a sense of its filmmaker's irrepressible fun in making it, Alvarez's version gives off a vibe of ruthless efficiency, earnestly establishing its cred with the brand of grimy grottiness modern viewers expect from remade '70s and '80s horror films (the redos of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and much of Wes Craven's resume) before moving on to gonzo horror with astonishingly disgusting imagery.
The new Evil Dead's also lays out its bona fides for Raimi fans, both offscreen (Raimi, longtime confederate Rob Tapert, and The Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell produced the remake) and on. The basic plot remains the same —five friends abscond to a cabin in the woods, where a book of the dead unleashes demons determined to possess their souls and thereby unleash apocalypse—and Alvarez crams the movie with reverential references to the original (from Raimi's "flying" camera move to a post-credits stinger fans had better stick around for).
The script by Uruguayans Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, with an American polish by Diablo Cody (Juno), adds a layer of psychodrama by making two of the characters siblings. Mia (Jane Levy) needs a getaway to recover her sobriety after a recent near-fatal overdose, which keeps her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) worrisomely watchful. When high school teacher Eric curiously reads aloud from the skin-bound book he finds in the cabin, a "taker of souls" comes out to bring fresh hell.
As newly plotted, the story looks at the fine line between heroism and stupidity, with the conflicted David forced to ask himself at what point he should cut his losses and save himself rather than attempt to save his possessed sister. That possession also briefly suggests an allegorical conflation of actual demons and the "demons" of addiction, and how easy it can be to innocently open the door to agents of evil. Mostly, though, this movie is about ruptured flesh and raining blood.
Alvarez evokes not only The Evil Dead, but the freaky-deakiness of The Exorcist and the outré "buckets of blood" stylization of pictures like Suspriria and Carrie. Obviously, what Alvarez's Evil Dead inevitably lacks is originality, though it does announce the arrival of a highly competent artiste of gore, for those who like that sort of thing.
In its second act, Evil Dead kicks things up a notch, clarifying its intention to hold nothing back in its intense violence and body horror. And in its third act, the picture lets in strains of sick humor (which, though welcome, could justifiably be called a tonal inconsistency after the dead-serious build-up). Whereas Raimi's winking kookiness allowed viewers to relax, Alvarez gives no such quarter, being of that school of trauma as entertainment—that is, the audience's experience of trauma just as much as the characters'.
Gore fans and Evil Dead fans are likely to agree that, in an age where "PG-13" rules the multiplex, this horror picture delivers the goods. It easily qualifies as one of the most audaciously revolting movies ever made, one that keeps daring you not to look away. It may not be my idea of fun, but if it leads to a (rumored) return of Campbell in a Raimi-led follow-up, then we can talk.