The review of any reboot is inevitably about how the new compares to the old, and not really about the inherent qualities of the new film. Reboots are at inherent disadvantage this way; they have to justify their existence and have a built in bar to pass. Any change and fans of the original will be mad. No change and fans of the original will be mad and there wasn't any point in rebooting. Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead (2013) has a tough act to follow. Sam Raimi's original Evil Dead (1981) is a classic horror flick that managed to be scary with claymation and stands the test of time. One doesn't watch Raimi's movie and say, "Oh what a dated 80s movie." One watches it and says "This is great. Why was Spider-Man 3 so bad?"
Spoilers abound below!
The immediate disadvantage Alvarez has is casting. Raimi hit gold when he got Bruce Campbell in the original, and those are very big shoes to fill. Alvarez handles this well, though: all the kids in the cabin are new characters, and none of them is a clear copy of Ash. The male lead, David (Shiloh Fernandez), dresses equivalently, gets thrown against walls, and has a workshop moment. But he doesn't give off the right vibe, and you can tell from the first minute he's onscreen that he won't be saying any one-liners. Part of the problem is our unfair expectations: we want a mash-up of all the best Ash from all three original movies (the sweetness of Ash 1, the insanity of Ash 2, and the wisecracking of Ash 3).
Luckily Mia (Jane Levy), David's sister, gets a second chance at the end of the film. She's definitely the best actor in the movie, and she more than compensates for David's lameness when she turns the tables in the film's finale. I'll watch the inevitable sequel to see her kill deadites.
Casting/acting: while the new series has room to grow, still a win for the original.
One of the things that makes the original Evil Dead distinct when you watch it is Raimi's camerawork. He's all about the moving camera, and frequently the completely insane moving camera, monster POV. Raimi also does something very interesting: he makes brightly-lit horror. Yes, the sun kills deadites in Evil Dead 2, but even when it's nighttime in the Raimi trilogy you're never not sure what you're looking at because it's dark. And it's still scary!
The reboot doesn't copy the original when it comes to filmmaking technique. As opposed to Raimi's straightforward-if-cartoony style, Alvarez is a slick professional. Everything is beautifully shot, in the dirtiest, wettest, ugliest way. Many scenes will make you think of Lars von Trier's Antichrist. And while Raimi is the king of the sped-up-handheld-POV, Alvarez is owns the uncomfortable close-up. He puts the camera right where you don't want to be, making the viewer feel trapped and unable to look away. A scene where Mia wades out of a sinking car gives all the sensation of almost drowning.
Cinematography: tie - the directors are going for different things, and both work.
Special effects are probably going to be a divisive subject about this film. They're brutal, they're good looking, and they're mostly practical effects but... there's nothing as insane as Raimi's creations. Sure, there was claymation in the original, and that takes you out of it a little, but he went for it. Alvarez's final monster is a little underwhelming, and there aren't giant hands or faces coming from other realms. Hopefully we're just saving that for Evil Dead Reboot 2.
F/X: win for the new. If only for the fantastic blood rain.
The plot of the new film is also a lot more character-based than the old ones. No more are these carbon stand-ins who die while Ash gets upset about it. (Except for David's girlfriend, who is forgettable save for losing limbs.) It's an interesting conceit: to have a real motivation for characters to do things, to have a real reason for not leaving that doesn't seem unnatural or manufactured. It's also an unexpected response to the riddle posed by The Cabin in the Woods, to be even more sincere in the face of satire... until doubling-back and Raimi-zanying the ending.
I have to admit at a certain point I was getting a little bummed. Everyone was dead but lame David. He was being really, really stupid and burying Mia instead of just burning her. A whole movie without really dumb decisions (save reading the Necronomicon), and now we're finishing up with one really dumb one. And then David does something that would have fit perfectly in with one of the Raimi films: he workshop-defibrillates Mia. Insane. And then not only does it work, but it doesn't trick you. She really is all better, not just temporarily-and-then-evil-again. And then lame David dies. It's great. And that's when the movie really starts to deliver. The finale of the film gives drag-out, crazy, super-gory old-school action with one-liners.
Overall, the score is a just about a draw, slight advantage original. Both the original and the new have their merits. The new movie brings a level of realism - character, emotion, special effects, cinematography - that the old didn't have, drawing you farther into the world of Evil Dead. The original had Bruce Campbell, and Jane Levy isn't quite there yet. But that's what Evil Dead 2 is all about.
Not dismembering Olivia or Natalie. Their pieces should have come back.
Too many sirens. It was practically Silent Hill.
Eric just won't die!
The whole end of the movie, from deadite Eric to the credits.
Thought would hate, but loved instead:
The new Necronomicon. No face, but better wrapped and it can't burn.
The "real story" and "characters." Who knew!