The remake of The Evil Dead in 2013 was a highly anticipated one. Horror fans everywhere, myself included, were insanely excited about seeing what the future generation of The Evil Dead nuts would be getting. There was worry, naturally. Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi had built such an iconic world. The films ran the gamut from super cheesy practical effects to pure terror to over the top ridiculous humour. It has achieved true cult status over the years, and how could it possibly top that?
The answer is, of course, that it couldn’t. Not only was Bruce Campbell synonymous with anything to do with The Evil Dead at that point, but expectations being too high was a sure recipe for disappointment. But it did the next best thing. It took the concept, updated it, and instead of trying to recreate the character of Ash Williams and his ill-fated friends, created fresh, new characters to take the trek to the infamous cabin in the woods.
Enter Jane Levy. My familiarity with Jane Levy until I saw Evil Dead was through the too-soon-cancelled Suburgatory. I loved her in the delightful little half hour comedy, and had a hard time reconciling her spunky, sassy character in the series to what I saw in the trailer for Evil Dead. I was intrigued. For an actress to be cast in a role with such high fan expectations, she had to be fantastic.
And she was. She was absolutely fantastic.
Jane Levy sells every single second that she is on screen in Evil Dead. The film cleverly gives the group a reason to stay, despite all of the crazy shit happening. Her character, Mia, is an addict, looking to dry out. As she starts to try and explain the things that are happening to her, she is ignored. Her friends are upset with her for trying to trick them into taking her away, believing that she just wants to get home to get her fix. The depiction of not being believed the one time that she needs to be is very powerful. It could come across as corny, but Mia knows that she won’t be believed. She makes a last ditch effort to appeal to her brother, and he can’t bring himself to believe in her story. The terror that Levy manages to convey, knowing full well that she will not be believed, but knowing that she has no choice but to try, was the moment that I knew that I was in for a stellar performance.
Mia does not have it easy in this film. She is the victim in the recreation of the infamous “tree rape” scene. She is possessed by a demon raised from the strange book that one of her friends reads from (despite the book being scribbled on with many warnings to the contrary). There are scenes when Mia is transformed, from a friend who is loved enough for her friends to try and help her get her life back on track, to an absolute monster. In the moments where demon-possessed Mia mocks her friends and commits physical violence on Mia’s body, there is no struggle for control there. We are not left to wonder what happened to Mia; she is gone, and she is not coming back.
It works surprisingly well as a metaphor for Mia’s addiction, and the expectations that society has of what an addict will do or say in search of a score. Of course, that can only be argued to a certain point. Once the tipping point is reached, it is pure demon takeover, and there is nothing human to search for anymore. Despite this, through Levy’s performance, the audience is made to sympathize with Mia, and to hope to see her fight. Seeing her struggle with this demon works on many levels for this story, and takes it from the camp of the original to something far more psychological.
Despite the fact that the lead in this film is a woman, rather than the cocky Ash Williams of decades ago, I have seen almost no griping about this fact. There are no complaints that the filmmakers simply swapped genders on the characters to say they did something different. Ash will always be his own character. If you’ve seen the more recent Ash vs Evil Dead series, there is no way that anyone could ever come close to replicating what Bruce Campbell has done for the franchise.
This is a film that is made to respect the original, and the best way that it could do that was to create an equally engaging, strong, and sympathetic character to take the lead. Levy takes this challenge and runs with it, and stepping into the spotlight on a franchise with such a dedicated fan base can be a huge risk these days. But she did it, and the emotional and physical toll it must have taken on her to do this film is intense to even think about, let alone watch. The movie is shockingly violent and gory, with even the red band trailer being almost too much for some. The makeup and practical effects in this film are a marvel in today’s film landscape, which has a tendency to lean on CGI. The benefits and power of the lost art of practical effects are on full display here, and I guarantee you have never seen this much fake blood all in one place. Levy is a bucket list “just give me ten minutes to pick your brain” artist for me, and the raw intensity of her performance in Evil Dead is a huge part of that.
To see an actress, particularly one who was relatively unknown at the time, step into this role with such confidence is truly inspiring. Fandoms can sometimes be a toxic thing, and the way that Levy’s performance has been embraced over the last several years is encouraging. She made Mia her own, and in doing so helped to contribute to the Evil Dead franchise in a meaningful way. She has followed up The Evil Dead with roles in Don’t Breathe and Castle Rock, and I hope that we see more and more of her in horror in future.