Movie Review: ‘Evil Dead Rise’ (Second Opinion)

Plot: Discovering she is pregnant, guitar technician Beth (Lily Sullivan) decides to visit her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) in Los Angeles. Ellie lives with her three children in a dilapidated and condemned apartment complex that’s due for demolition next month. When Los Angeles is rocked by a mild earthquake, Ellie’s son Danny (Morgan Davies) discovers an underground bank vault with a safety deposit box. Inside said box are three 100-year-old records and a strange book that turns out to be the Naturom Demonto—the Book of the Dead. Listening to the records, Danny unwittingly summons demonic entities known as the Deadites. What ensues is a horrific nightmare and Beth may be the only one who can get everyone to survive the night before they are all dead by dawn.  

Review: When you think about it, it’s a minor miracle that a low-budget, somewhat campy horror film spawned a franchise that’s lasted over four decades. And yet The Evil Dead, the film Stephen King called, “the most ferociously original horror film of the year,” has generated four sequels, a television show, and several video games. It’s also resulted in more swag than any Hot Topic is reasonably expected to hold and launched the careers of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. It’s hard to quantify why exactly this franchise is so beloved (myself included) and why it’s spawned such a rabid fanbase. To me, it’s always been about one thing: consistent quality content. Every element of the Evil Dead franchise contains an intrinsic value. (Yes, I’m including Fede Alvarez’s 2013 film which I feel is grievously underrated.)

Having said all that, going back to the well for a fifth time carries with it, its own set of pitfalls and snares. After all, Lee Cronin’s latest entry is a legacy sequel to a legacy sequel. Would there be enough juice (also blood, vomit, and other bodily fluids) left in the revived corpse to justify its existence? Well, gimmie some sugar baby because Evil Dead Rise has the goods.

Gnarly, gruesome, gory, bloody, captivating, and fucking terrifying, writer/director Lee Cronin injects new life into this forty-year-old franchise. The whole endeavor is clearly a labor of love from someone who reveres the franchise but also possesses the testicular fortitude to try something different. The clearest example is the setting itself. Apart from a harrowing opening scene that tips the cap to the original film, most of the movie takes place in a dilapidated apartment complex in Los Angeles. A less capable writer/director would have made “Evil Dead but in a city” the movie’s whole identity, but that’s not the case here. Even though Evil Dead Rise takes place in a major city, the film still feels very intimate, ala the first film. This is due in large part to the fact that the complex is sparsely populated, and the building condemned. In a strange way, the entire complex feels like a large cabin in the woods which works beautifully. The fact that the entire complex itself is already rotting and decaying on its own, mirrors the Deadite infestation itself. Kind of brilliant when you think about it.

From a tension standpoint, Cronin knows how to turn all the right screws. In a fantastic narrative move, he makes the inspired decision to have a horrific opening scene and then pull way back to begin a slow burn punctuated by truly terrifying moments. I was so on edge during this movie, my sphincter might as well have been superglued. At ninety-seven minutes with credits, this is also a tight script with perfect pacing. The discovery of the book and nostalgic elements like the shotgun and the chainsaw makes perfect logical sense within the context of the story. Indeed, Cronin makes a concerted effort NOT to rely on nostalgia yet sprinkles in just enough to make fans of the franchise rejoice. If I had one nitpick at all it’s that the script is so relentless from a horror standpoint, that there’s little room for levity, a mainstay of the franchise. Again, though a very minor quibble.

The throughline of Evil Dead Rise rests on the family dynamic. We genuinely care about the plight of Ellie, Beth, Danny, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and Kassie (Nell Fisher). Cronin manages to take a breath every once in a while to examine the rough sibling dynamic between Beth and Ellie or the mother/children relationship between Ellie and her kids. The fact that Ellie feels abandoned by both her ex-husband and her sister permeates most of the film. I was particularly fond of Morgan Davies’ performance as Danny. The fact that his love of DJing and using turntables ultimately results in unleashing evil is heartbreaking and the height of irony. Fisher also stuns as the youngest sibling Kassie to the point that I hope the actor and character get therapy after this. (Just kidding…sort of). Lily Sullivan makes for an excellent heroine as well. Beth’s clearly dealing with her own demons of regret and the burden of upcoming motherhood. So, when she finally goes full Ash Williams and confronts actual demons, it’s exponentially more satisfying.

At the end of the day though it is Alyssa Sutherland’s Ellie as the main Deadite that wins the day. Nothing short of phenomenal, her performance is the best horror performance since Toni Colette in Hereditary. Jesus, she is terrifying. While the physicality is great it is the way she delivers lines that is slyly evil. A conversation between Ellie and Kassie through a locked door had me squealing. Moreover, she says some of the meanest, vilest shit this side of Alec Baldwin’s Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross. That’s exactly what you want in a Deadite. Much as you’d like to you can’t take your eyes off her.

And the kills? Fuck ME, the kills. Evil Dead Rise just keeps re-raising the stakes throughout the movie. I won’t ruin it but let’s just say I only want to drink out of plastic cups for a while and keep your cheese graters away from me. There’s also an incident involving eyeball gauging (something that creeps me out to no end) that takes it to the next level. Evil Dead Rise also sports an elevator scene with enough blood to make Kubrick’s The Shining envious. And when Ellie finally picks up the chainsaw the result is simply…groovy.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention some of the technical elements of this film. Evil Dead Rise sports some of the best sound design I’ve heard in any movie—not just horror—in years. Peter Albrechtsen should be extremely proud of his accomplishments here. Never thought I’d say this but, Evil Dead Rise deserves to be seen in a theater for the sound design alone. Also, and I say this with no hyperbole, Dave Garbett’s cinematography is the best in a horror film since Owen Roizman in The Exorcist. Two shots in particular, one involving a bathtub and another involving a record player, really stood out and had me thinking about them for days. Also, there’s a sequence from the perspective of a peephole where there are not enough chef’s kisses in the world to cover how great it is. There are clearly a lot of close-ups to enhance the intimacy of the horror but Garbett never overly relies upon them. Stephen McKeon also delivers a sparingly subtle yet poignant score that underscores the film’s tension. My one and only gripe would be that although the effects were mostly practical, what little CGI there was, was slightly dodgy.

Overall, if you are a horror fan you will love this film. If you are an Evil Dead fan, you will ABSOLUTELY love this film. It’s scary enough to have you go screaming to your Mommy. But she can’t help you.

Mommy’s with the maggots now.   

My rating system:

God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad

2 Straight Garbage

3 Bad

4 Sub Par

5 Average

6 Ok

7 Good

8 Very Good

9 Great

10 A Must See

Evil Dead Rise: 9/10