The signature shot of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies has a dark force careening through a Grimm forest at breakneck speed, as if released through the devil’s slingshot. Since the films are about the hell unleashed by readings from The Book Of The Dead, they have an anything-goes relentlessness that mixes quick, brutal shocks with Three Stooges elasticity. Produced with the high style and maximum viscera of Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead remake, Fede Alvarez’s appealingly nasty Evil Dead remake limits the Raimi wit, but compensates with an all-out assault of demon possession, mutilation, and buckets of gore. And while Raimi’s Stooges aesthetic—which was really more prominently displayed in the sequels than in 1981’s The Evil Dead—isn’t played up here, there’s enough outrageous unreality to make the brutality go down a little easier. It isn’t quite a cartoon, but it’s close enough.
Like an non-ironic version of the mechanized death parodied in last year’s The Cabin In The Woods, Evil Dead gathers five good-looking young people in a rustic death trap set deep in the forest. The gummy premise has Shiloh Fernandez trying to reconnect with his estranged sister Jane Levy, a heroin addict given one last chance to kick the habit for good. Then the discovery of a gruesome scene under the floorboards unearths a wire-bound copy of The Book Of The Dead. When their bookish friend (Lou Taylor Pucci) decides to crack it open and do a little heavy reading, all hell breaks loose, starting with Levy; her withdrawal was bound to lead to madness of a kind, and when she channels a demon, it none-too-subtly stands as a metaphor for her raging addiction.
Co-writer/director Alvarez, a Uruguayan who first gained notice on YouTube with his striking short “Panic Attack!”, doesn’t seem all that invested in the sibling relationship that’s cynically acts as the film’s emotional core. But he has a clear zeal for bloody mayhem, and the chops to make a hodgepodge of borrowed gestures from The Exorcist and Raimi movies seem bracing again. At a certain point, the characters’ reticence to take action makes no sense: Levy’s addiction is supposed to account for her “crazy” behavior, but Evil Dead often seems like the type of movie that inspired Edgar Wright’s “Don’t” trailer in Grindhouse. But Alvarez just keeps on amplifying the gory intensity until the film becomes absurd and weirdly infectious, an exercise in seeing how far the audience will bend without breaking. Only the flexible need apply.