The woods in these movies, they like to rape girls. So when the girls run through the woods, they get raped.
It’s the teacher’s fault. We all know that the Book of Evil must not be opened or, god forbid, read out loud. Bound up in barbed wire, hidden away in a basement where it’s surrounded by dead cats hanging from the ceiling, and marked up by red letters that say, “Leave this book alone,” it’s so obviously out of bounds that you would think that even the worst reader of signs would get that point. But no. The high school teacher is worse than the worst reader.
It’s not so clear why this is so, in Evil Dead, a reimagining of Sam Raimi’s several versions (from the short Within the Woods forward). But as Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) meets with his friends at the backwoodsiest-ever cabin in Tennessee, you get the idea that he’s not happy with his day job: his face is sour, his hair lank, and his glasses an emblem of his pouty geekdom. Eric’s not happy to be at the cabin either, but he’s self-righteously angry at his former best friend David (Shiloh Fernandez), who years ago abandoned his little sister Mia (Jane Levy), who suffered caring for their terminally ill mother and so, apparently, became a drug addict.
Since then, Mia’s been unable to kick, and has even ODed, a detail her brother only learns when he’s informed at the cabin by Eric and another friend, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), now conveniently a nurse, so that she might think she can attend to Mia’s withdrawal symptoms herself, thus convincing everyone that they should remain at the cabin (a.k.a. the Terrible Place) long after they should have left it. As you know because you know the Evil Dead saga, the Book of the Dead calls for a fifth soul to “feast on,” and so David has brought along his girl, whom he introduces as “my girl,” whose name is also Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).
All of this is standard plotting and populating for any horror movie, even if it’s more or less specific to the Evil Dead franchise. Fede Alvarez’s film assumes you know this much because you know the Evil Dead mythology. You know that no one should open the Book. And you know someone will.
In another movie, the fact that this someone is the teacher might have currency in a debate about underfunded high schools and frustrated educators. Here, his error seems a function of his anger and his bad reading. When, at last, Eric admits to David and the others that he read the book out loud and so solicited the evil force, they’re less surprised and horrified than they are exhausted and near dead. So the teacher’s culpability is something of an afterthought, though his childish acting out seems, for a moment in your mind anyway, to raise questions concerning his fitness as a teacher, a friend or even a former friend. Be that as it may, the teacher brings the pain. And he pays for it, as do his fellow cabineers.
The payment is familiar. The camera hurtles toward the cabin, assuming the evil force’s perspective. The friends run through the woods, they’re deluged by an ungodly rainstorm, they hear garbled evil voices and witness evil doors slamming shut, they suffer penetration, commit self-dismemberment, they wield a chainsaw and a nail gun. These violences are especially graphic, per the film’s upping of that ante. Someone is locked in the basement and is duly transformed. Someone discovers the bloody corpse of a beloved dog. Some is stabbed and someone is shotgun-blasted. Someone’s skull is smashed. Someone saws off their own jaw. And oh yes, someone is raped by trees.
That this last someone is a girl goes without saying. Certainly, assaulting girls is the primary business of horror movies. As Raimi long ago described it to me, the genre depends on the sound of girls screaming, a sound shrill and sharp and painful, a sound with which boys’ typically lower register can’t compete. A variety of assaults might produce that sound, of course, but the sexual sort is particularly effective. In Evil Dead, you hear that sound a lot, by the girls attacked and those possessed. The boys do their best to articulate their feelings, but the girls have a most effectively direct access to self-expression—not to mention the expression of your own anxiety and anticipation.
The tree rape scene is predictably and also particularly disturbing. The victim is trying to escape the cabin, unbelieved by her friends when she tells them it is indeed terrible, and, by the way, that no one should have touched that book.
She’s caught in the rain, her car sinks in a creek, and she’s doing her best to survive elements. Slammed into a tree, she cowers and whimpers, and then the branches and roots come at her, relentless, reaching, and, for all their utter triteness, weirdly frightening. At this point in this scene—and in any scene of its type—you’re not looking at a face or a human performance per se, but rather, at a tangle of roots and limbs, sinuous and despoiling. The tangle makes its way up her thighs, and as you hear her screams, you know how right she was right about the book.