DON'T WORRY. Evil Dead, the long awaited and (in some circles) controversial reboot of Sam Raimi's 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead, is worth resurrecting. Leading up to its release, there has been much hand-wringing on the part of devotees to the original, which launched Raimi, along with lead actor Bruce Campbell, into cult status with its inventive, lo-fi special effects, goofily over-the-top gore, and Campbell's expressive eyebrows. Under the authority of first-time feature director Fede Alvarez—himself answerable to co-producers Raimi and Campbell—the new version borrows the premise, and references the style of the original, but the familiarity does nothing to dispel the non-stop startles and merciless gruesomeness that qualify Evil Dead as an original.
And yes, it accomplishes this without Ash. Instead we have Mia (Jane Levy), who's summoned her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and a few friends to her family's remote cabin (yep, that one) to help her quit heroin cold turkey. Plot-wise, it's an easy way to gradually ratchet up the tension, with Mia's early warnings—you know, about that human flesh-bound book they found in the basement, over there by all the dead cats—dismissed as a particularly bad case of junk sickness. Alvarez capitalizes on it and squeezes every last bit of anxiety out of the circumstances, leaving the audience to squirm and plead at every near miss and careless decision, as demonic powers set in and body parts begin to suffer.
Keeping all the special effects in-camera and relying on prostheses, makeup, and gallons of fake blood isn't necessarily as realistic as what's possible digitally, but it keeps the experience visceral and tactile, while paying homage to its predecessor. And while there is bloodshed aplenty, assisted by various implements (including the necessary chainsaw), Alvarez deftly weaves the blunt gore in with a diverse host of creepy-crawly scare tactics.
As much as a completely original film is arguably more of a cultural contribution than a re-tread, slam dunking a hyped and debated addition to a beloved franchise like this is one hell of a splashy debut for a new director.