Horror is a genre that manages to stand the test of time throughout the decades with very little need for change. Not just in the survivability of its tried and true methods, but that it can rely on decade long franchise favorites to continually be reimagined and revitalized. Much is the case with “Evil Dead Rise,” a sort of homage to the originals with a baked in update of setting and of course, bloody disgusting violence. “Rise” is more aligned with the 2013 remake, trading out the satirical whimsy for near hopelessness and mean spirited torture. It is quite impressive that the “Evil Dead” franchise has such a wide range of entries that all still feel a part of the larger work, from the straightforward inventiveness of the first one to the near parody of itself in “Army of Darkness,” all the way down to its criminally underrated television series. The franchise has run the gamut of horror sub genres, and I am happy to report that this latest attempt does not disappoint. “Evil Dead Rise” is over the top violent and genuinely mean spirited, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel it most certainly gives it one helluva spin.
Written and directed by Lee Cronin, “Evil Dead Rise” introduces a new chapter in the long running horror franchise. This time, it trades in a cabin in the woods for a run down Los Angeles apartment complex. It follows a mother of 3 and her visiting her sister at their apartment. After an earthquake unearths a vault with which the building was built, one of the children discovers the Necronomicon and some old records and brings it home. Of course, nothing good can come from opening the book, and even worse listening to a priest from 1923 read the passages that (surprise, surprise) awaken an uncontrollable evil that unleashes hell on the family and the residents. It’s a fight for survival as the deadite curse takes hold of their love ones and sets out to wreak havoc every chance it gets.
Cronin smartly uses the eerie setting of Los Angeles to instantly create a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere that never lets up ones it gets going. The sense of dread and hopelessness in the fight against evil is palpable, with the film brutally crafting a no holds barred, blood soaked experience. Cronin is ultimately uninterested in fixing what isn’t broken, opting to choose violence over satire and lean into the over the top gore the “Evil Dead” franchise has long been celebrated for. It’s pretty incredible that Rami’s vision continues to hold up so well some 40 years later. This film doesn’t try too many new tricks narratively speaking, and is really only updated by setting and practical effect advancements. And it works, mostly. There is a fine line that’s walked between homage and retread.
By its nature, “Rise” is purposefully utilizing the frameworks and visions of Raimi’s originals while shedding the satirical tone altogether. By playing things this close to the chest, Cronin creates a beautiful, blood soaked bordello that feels “Evil Dead” but lacks true investment or justification for existing. It doesn’t add to the lore as much as it celebrates it, and doesn’t really give you characters that feel worth remembering to leave you wanting to see more of anyone who may or may not have survived the fright fest. That’s not a knock on the performances, as they are THE thing that put the “Rise” in “Evil Dead Rise.” Alyssa Sutherland (“Vikings“) as Ellie, the single mother who is overtaken as the main deadite delivers a bone chilling, gleefully demented performance as loving mother turned demon queen. “Rise” gives her quite a bit to do as the monster, more so than most in other entries as far as acting prowess goes, and you can tell that Sutherland is relishing in the physicality and twistedness of the role.
Lily Sullivan as Beth (Ellie’s sister) is a serviceable protagonist but often pushed to the background in lieu of kills and thrills. The lean and mean construction of “Evil Dead Rise” doesn’t give us enough to rally behind Beth as she fights to save herself and her nieces and nephew. Sullivan has all the makings of an “Evil Dead” heroine; she’s vulnerable but not fragile, and flees when she needs to but is more than capable of grabbing a chainsaw and getting down to business. “Evil Dead Rise” as a whole lets her down, and in turn lets down some of the other children performers like Morgan Davies as Danny and Gabrielle Echols as Bridgette. They’re doing their best despite a script that holds them all back, and their efforts elevate some of the missed opportunities to make their presence more impactful the longer the nightmare goes on.
All in all, “Evil Dead Rise” is sure to satisfy long standing fans, and while it doesn’t completely justify its necessity or garner new ones, it provides enough blood and guts and classic deadite snark to be worth the plunge. “Mommy’s with the maggots now” plays REALLY well in context, and those looking for what “Rise” has to offer will surely be rewarded.
I will never look at a cheese grater the same ever again.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
“Evil Dead Rise” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.