SXSW Film Fest, Day 1: "Evil Dead" & "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"

Evil Dead

Director: Fede Alvarez
Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
Running time: 91 minutes
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Score: 7/10

You can't tell director Fede Alvarez and the producers behind Evil Dead that they aren't audacious. On what's definitely one of the stronger posters to arrive in some time, Evil Dead's confident tagline reads as follows: "The most terrifying film you will ever experience." Of course, they didn't really mean that as much as they intended it to express their own self-assurance and assuage the millions of skeptics questioning why the original team behind the 1981 cult classic—Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert—would willingly revamp their beloved masterwork of gonzo low-budget genre filmmaking.

With that kind of tagline, though, comes a certain expectation, one that could only be satiated by taking the original's gory anarchy and ratcheting it up tenfold, all with the resources and on-set trickery that Raimi and friends couldn't afford 32 years ago. And, on a few must-address levels, the new Evil Dead isn't nearly as batshit as its predecessor, nor is it as creepy.

What it is, however, is bloodier—in fact, first-time director Alvarez's hard-R rollercoaster descent into Hell just may be the most viscera-drenched mainstream horror film of the new millennium, if not of all time. Which is the one major level that Evil Dead ultimately succeeds upon: When this baby kicks into ludicrous gear, it's a cover-your-eyes knockout. Yet this Evil Dead interjects far too many brief respites in between its money-shot sequences, resulting in a somewhat episodic flick that prevents it from ever truly reaching the overpowering ferocity Alvarez and company no doubt wanted.

But damn does it come close. Much to his credit, Alvarez—a Uruguayan novice who first caught insiders' collective attention back in 2009 with the acclaimed sci-fi short Panic Attack!—has a steady hand on his camera when it counts. Whereas most Hollywood genre directors tend to dress gruesome scenes with kinetic editing, Alvarez shows every second and detail of each hideous dismemberment and self-mutilation that befall the five unfortunate characters. Similar to the original Evil Dead, they're a group of lifelong friends spending a few nights inside an isolated old cabin in the woods.

There's a catch here, though: One of them, Mia (Suburgatory star Jane Levy), has a dangerous drug addiction, and the trip deep into the woods is actually an intervention to get her to kick the habit. Before long, the doomed pals find a book filled with Satanic imagery and red-written warnings. And, naturally, one of them reads every indecipherable word and summons possessive demonic forces.

The script, co-written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (with some assistance from Diablo Cody), isn't the project's strong suit, particularly due to a succession of hokey, at times downright idiotic dialogue. In one scene, a character projectile vomits blood all over the face of another, to which the latter says, as if unaware that such geysers of blood can't actually pour out of a person, "She's totally psychotic!" Actor Lou Taylor Pucci, playing the prerequisite "Something's wrong here, guys," character, suffers the most from the dialogue issues—practically every line his character says is problematic.

Sticklers for screenwriting proficiency will probably have a field day picking Evil Dead apart. But, let's be honest: You're not paying money to see this movie in hopes of getting Glengarry Glenn Ross. The horror is what counts here, and, yes, Evil Dead is on fire whenever the scares are at hand—meaning, the entire third act, which culminates with one exceedingly loony showstopper that finds one character (who'll win genre fans' hearts over forever thanks to this extended action sequence) in a human-vs-demon showdown complete with blood showers, arms getting ripped in half, and terrific use of a chainsaw.

It's a curtain-closing moment that'll leave weak-stomached audience members reeling, gorehounds cheering, and—assuming they're able to drop all pretensions and embrace this altogether successful remake's unsubtle, ghastly charms—those who've groaned at the film's numerous missteps throwing their hands in the air and saying, "Screw it, that was pretty damn badass."

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