Movie Review: ‘Evil Dead Rise’

Director: Lee Cronin

Cast: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, Nell Fisher

Plot: When an earthquake uncovers a buried vault beneath an apartment building, an evil spirit is released. It possesses Ellie, a single mother of three, turning her into a demonic entity.

Review: The Evil Dead franchise is the most inconsistent of the classic horror franchises. Not in quality, they tend of be reliably high quality, but inconsistent in terms of genre and canon. The original trilogy evolved from pure horror to madcap comedy – a tone that we see in the TV sequel and video games – whilst the remake leans heavily into the gore. How it all fits together has been unclear, and Evil Dead Rise doesn’t make itself clear as to whether it’s a sequel for another reboot. Interestingly enough, this new theatrical release provides plenty to link all the disparate parts of the franchise together while standing alone as its own story.

Things kick off with classic Evil Dead imagery – invisible spirits closing in on a couple of college age kids in a cabin. This is just a cold open though, the real action takes place in a city apartment block. Our main characters are a dysfunctional but loving family comprised of mother Ellie (Sutherland), teen activist Bridget (Echols), musician Danny (Echolls) and the youngest child, the quirky Kassie (Fisher). They’re all artistic types, and in the process of packing up to move when Ellie’s sister Beth (Sullivan) makes an unexpected appearance. While the kids are out getting pizza, an earthquake cracks open the basement garage to reveal a forgotten bank vault beneath. Danny explores, and returns with a hidden, toothy book and a batch of vinyl recordings. As expected, playing these recordings result in some priests reading from the Book of the Dead and summoning the evil spirits to their home.

This definitely isn’t the original Necronomicon as it appeared in the original or the remake – but the recordings make mention of three known books. This is a clever way to link all the threads of the series together without disregarding previous continuity. It also opens the lore up to allow for new material and twists to the formula.

Our new Book of the Dead results in an evil spirit possessing Ellie. Unlike the usual horror staples of college-aged victims, pitting a group of young, vulnerable children against a manipulative and sadistic monster taking the form of their mother is terrifying and unsettling. The possessed, or Deadites, always use emotional manipulation and trickery to get their targets and this adds a sinister twist to things. There’s a couple of Red Shirt neighbours early on, but this small cast means that any death or possession is going to hit hard.

During the nightmare that plays out we get a balance of Evil Dead staples and new material. Levitating Deadites, threats to eat your soul, taunting and plenty of slashing and stabbing abound. Things get escalated to include new nastiness including eating glass and the use of a cheese grater which made the entire audience audibly wince. Deadites can only be killed with dismemberment, so the body horror gets quite extreme. For the most part this had enough to make us nerds happy while engaging newcomers. We do wish, however, that they didn’t rely on classic imagery for the finale and focused on doing their own thing with the new monster concept. Rather than ending on a big moment it felt like it was completing a checklist. You can finish an Evil Dead movie without a blood soaked survivor waving a chainsaw around.

Evil Dead Rise possibly has the best production values of the series. The set and prop work on the apartment genuinely makes it feel like an off-beat family have been living here for years and helps the characters feel believable as a family. The higher budget behind the project goes a long way to making a polished looking experience compared to the grungy and slapdash look of the originals. What is lacking is the visual flair of Sam Raimi, who would flip is camera and include jarring zooms and creative effects, a highlight of the series. Not that we’d want to have a new director trying to ape Raimi’s style, it’s just a tough act to follow.

Horror fans and Evil Dead fans who can look past the lack of Bruce Campbell are going to have a real fun time here. It lacks the punch needed to make it a classic, but is a solid addition to the franchise.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN