Evil Dead Rise (United States/New Zealand, 2023)

The sixth big-screen appearance of Sam Raimi’s Deadites (they previously had a three-season run on cable TV) is titled Evil Dead Rise, and it aims to address the issue of whether The Evil Dead are compelling enough on their own to hold the audience’s attention without Bruce Campbell’s Ash. Ash has never been completely ignored in a series chapter before, despite the fact that his debut in Fede Alvaraz’s 2013 version was just a brief post-credits cameo. Even with a shotgun and a chainsaw, the new characters can’t completely cover the Joseph Campbell-sized hole in the screenplay’s fabric, so the verdict is still out. An Evil Dead movie undoubtedly requires its human star more than the other way around, much as with the reincarnation. Regardless, Lee Cronin’s approach to the Deadite universe in Evil Dead Rise is superior to Fede Alvarez’s but still falls far short of Sam Raimi, who directed the original trilogy (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, and Army of Darkness).

Although the film begins in a cabin by a lake, most of the action takes place in a run-down Los Angeles tenement building that is about to be demolished. The happily disorganised fatherless family of Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies), Kassie (Nell Fisher), and their mother Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) live in one of the apartments. Beth (Lily Sullivan), Ellie’s mischievous sister, enters the scene with a stain on her soul and a child in her tummy after returning home after a global tour as a band’s audio technician. A buried vault is exposed deep under the parking garage when there is an earthquake. Danny descends to investigate what’s going on, embraces the inherent horror movie foolishness anticipated in an Evil Dead movie, and finds the Necronomicon and a collection of antiquated documents. Naturally, he is compelled to play the records and open the Book of the Dead. Ellie has the misfortune of becoming the first victim when this releases a demon.

Cronin (like Alvarez) chooses a more serious Evil Dead in keeping with Raimi’s original, maybe realising that the overtly campy/comedic tone of Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness would not work without Campbell’s involvement. The film chooses to go for something closer to straightforward horror rather than the horror/comedy pastiche that Raimi adopted for the final two installments of his trilogy (which was carried over to “Ash vs. Evil Dead”), even though Evil Dead Rise has plenty of dark humour and plenty of gratuitous blood and gore.

Evil Dead Rise mostly adheres to the model Raimi set for Deadite flicks in the 1980s. As a result, by the time the action moves to the closing moments, everyone has been properly covered in blood, the hero or heroine is in complete control of a chain saw, and the majority of the supporting players have passed away. The location restricts the amount of victims, which is essentially why there aren’t many deaths for a horror movie with this much brutality. Cronin decides to focus on quality rather than quantity as a result. And much like Ash, who lost an arm when it was inconvenient, the Ash substitute too ends up being chopped and diced.

Given how the horror genre has developed since 1987 (the year Evil Dead II was published), it’s possible that this is one of the reasons that Evil Dead Rise lacks the full-throttle excitement of Raimi’s efforts. Raimi created several things that have subsequently been copied, recopied, and improved upon. Though the early Evil Dead films were many things, few would describe them as “generic.” However, elements of Evil Dead Rise have a recognisable feel. It never really scares me, but it’s always gory and sometimes darkly funny. The crazy plots of serious horror films in the 2020s or the use of ominous camera angles and eerie set designs are where these films find their niches. Both are present in Evil Dead Rise. The outcome should, for the most part, satisfy series fans (albeit Ash’s absence leaves an unbridgeable gap). Younger viewers or those unfamiliar with the genre may be curious as to what makes this movie unique. The response is null. Another time, nostalgia has triumphed over originality.

Evil Dead Rise (United States/New Zealand, 2023)
Director: Lee Cronin
Cast: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, Nell Fisher
Screenplay: Lee Cronin
Cinematography: Dave Garbett
Music: Stephen McKeon
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:39
U.S. Release Date: 2023-04-21
MPAA Rating: “R” (Violence, Gore, Profanity)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Evil Dead Rise: Delivering the Demonic Goods While Taking Place in a City

If you were lucky enough to see the Evil Dead Rise promotional screening, you returned home with a cheese grater.

Without having watched the movie, you won’t understand this strange takeaway. When you do, you’ll realise how finicky a cheese grater seems. One that adheres to the principle of “Chekov’s gun,” which states that if a cheese grater is introduced in the first act, it must be used in the second.

The same is true for the woodchopper in the parking garage and the fabric sheers that were carelessly thrown aside: each object was alluringly presented in order to take root in the subconscious and eventually grow, then flower into a bleeding gorgeous mess.

In Evil Dead Rise, Alyssa Sutherland was under the influence.
These are deliberately placed early-scene pledges meant to convey to fans that Evil Dead Rise, the fifth installment in a series that also includes numerous sequels and one reboot, is committed to upholding its promises. And when it does, it does it in buckets—specifically, buckets of artificial blood. According to the film’s director Lee Cronin, it was 1,720 gallons.

The franchise’s core elements are still present. A religiously charged spell, The Book of the Dead wrapped in human flesh, and (in the end) the transformed threat of a loved one as a demon gladly revealing its victims’ frailties before ripping into their flesh are all still there.

But the franchise has moved past its silly beginnings. There aren’t any garden tools affixed to severed limbs or corpses doing the dance in the woods.

The comedy is still there, but it now has an additional appeal that was lacking from earlier episodes. The characters of the film, an unusual family, and their similarly odd neighbours are to thank for its appeal. Including an elderly man carrying a shotgun and a lovelorn teenage boy.

The movie launches into action with title cards that blaze off the screen and an explosive start that leaves the audience gasping for more. It’s one of the most thrilling introductions to a movie—horror or not—that has been seen in a while. The setting then changes from the isolated cottage that has served as the series’ signature to a dilapidated apartment in downtown Los Angeles.

Here is where we meet the family, busy going about their daily lives.

The mother, Elle (Alyssa Sutherland), is attentive to her kids but briefly preoccupied with an art project. Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), her oldest child, is miffed because her t-shirt hasn’t been cleaned.

Her mother yells, “You know where the washing machine is.”

Her adolescent son, Danny (Morgan Davies), is listening to vinyl on his turntable while Kassie (Nell Fisher), the family’s precocious infant, uses a pair of fabric scissors to cut off the head of her doll.

Enter Beth (Lily Sullivan), Elle’s estranged sister who has been too preoccupied to recognise that the family relations have recently and seriously broken down. Evil Dead Rise’s first thirty minutes provide more history than the preceding four installments combined.

Then, however, an earthquake reveals a subterranean vault in the tenement’s sub-basement. The Book of the Dead is said to be securely locked in the vault, protected from ever posing a threat to mankind. This is the same book that was initially shown in filmmaker Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead.

Things may have gone differently if Danny had watched an Evil Dead movie. But while Bridget begs people to leave things alone, ignorance and curiosity take hold. Soon after becoming trapped on the 14th floor with no way out, the family and a few neighbours are exposed to a long-dormant demon that viciously attacks and takes possession of Elle before moving on to other people.

While not exclusively, Evil Dead Rise is aware of fan expectations. The rules aren’t so much changed in the movie as they are unexpectedly brought back to life. The familial dynamic differs significantly from earlier Evil Dead flicks. Furthermore, the “no one is safe” ethos of the film results in some scenes that occasionally feel tragic.

Contrary to Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, which are essentially the same movie made twice, Evil Dead Rise is an original work. However, just as much as tradition endures, there are also surprises to be had. The carnage is seen only via the peephole of an apartment door in a superbly staged scene of terror, giving an eyewitness narrative a powerless and distorted viewpoint.

But there are problems; creating the ideal family by taking advantage of its members’ flaws feels coyly misguided. The ‘will they/won’t they’ suspense of a hand slowly (so slowly) reaching to open a locked door seems overextended, much as tricking a toddler into believing something is wrong by giving a false alarm feels artificial (apart from being cruel).

These, though, are only niggling issues in a movie that regularly surpasses expectations.

Cronin, who is also listed as the screenwriter, adds on the action with overt recreations of The Exorcist-style moments. It can give the impression that Evil Dead Rise is competing with David Gordon Green’s upcoming Exorcist sequel to be the first to achieve possession-horror status.

Even though Green’s Exorcist sequel hasn’t been released yet, Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise has already set a high standard.

Rise of Evil Dead. Lee Cronin is the director. Alyssa Sutherland, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, Nell Fisher, and Lily Sullivan serve as the film’s main actors. On Friday, April 21, Evil Dead Rise has its theatrical debut.