Director: Lee Cronin
Notable Cast: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher, Anna-Maree Thomas, Mirabai Pease, Richard Crouchley, Jaden Daniels
My bias toward the Evil Dead franchise is rather blatant. The series defined my youth, characterized a large part of my taste in film, and eventually pushed my love of cinema to the next level. When Fede Alvarez nailed his Evil Dead remake in 2013, my body and mind were ready for a new era for the demonic horror series. It was time to reinvent it for a modern audience.
Then it never happened.
And that’s when my 10-year Evil Dead depression started.
Fortunately, like the Deadites that infest and torture our protagonists, you can’t fuckin’ kill this series. It might have taken 10 years and required Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema to grow a brain and not push this straight to HBOMax (I’m sorry, it’s “just Max” now), but we are now treated with the latest entry, Evil Dead Rise, and it certainly rises to the occasion. At least, if you want gratuitous violence and gore, a brisk pace, and lots of physics unawareness for unspecified demonic powers. Evil Dead Rise delivers in spades the elements necessary for a great Evil Dead entry, even going so far as carrying some of its oddities along with it.
What’s so fascinating about how this franchise has evolved is the way that it has managed to modernize the concept while maintaining the cornerstones of Evil Dead. For Evil Dead Rise, moving the setting from a cabin in the woods to an apartment complex in an urban setting is rather astute. While the film doesn’t get to play more into seeing Deadites overrun an entire apartment tower, which would have been a blast, it does smartly make the choice to retain that sense of isolation for the characters.
Sure, there are some random neighbors who only exist to be fodder for the slaughter, but the film is mostly contained to a handful of rooms and it creates that same sense of intense horror intimacy that made the original films (sans Army of Darkness which only uses it in moments) so effective. The design of the sets and art direction really give the apartment complex plenty of atmosphere. Not to mention, director and writer Lee Cronin is smart enough to parallel that tone by opening the film with a cabin in the woods sequence - which leads to one of the best title cards I’ve seen in a long time - and fans are sure to appreciate how it all ties together - plot-wise and tonally.
It’s in the tone that Evil Dead Rises finds its best success. Lee Cronin, who delivered quite the unnerving slow-burn artsy horror flick in The Hole in the Ground, goes damn near the opposite direction with this one by the latter half. The first act is focused on the family at hand, told from the perspective of the wayward sister/aunt who comes to visit her sister and her kids in their dilapidated apartment. There are bits of dark humor blended into the mix, more akin to the balance of horror and humor present in the 2013 remake, but the film is far more focused on the horror and drama of its core than anything else. It's not a horror comedy, ala Evil Dead 2, even if it has its moments of levity.
Naturally, though, this is an Evil Dead movie. Thus, after that first half, the film does not hesitate to become unhinged. All the gore and horrific moments are there, and although I would make the argument that the 2013 remake was brutal in showing its violence, Evil Dead Rise does lean heavily into the classic terror of violence that the series is known for. Anchored by a brilliant villain performance from Alyssa Sutherland that drives home the creep factor, Cronin and company surround her with great effects, key moments of horror, and plenty of those Evil Dead one-liners - even if most of them are not humorous. Fans of the series are going to love the violence, gore, and other effects. They fit right in and still feel unique to this entry.
My bias for the Evil Dead franchise might be obvious, but it helps to praise Evil Dead Rise when it’s so effective at being a new entry into the series that delivers just enough new to set itself apart, but enough of the classic moments and elements to keep fans happy. It’s dark, creepy, incredibly well shot, and the designs for the horror and sets amplify the style that Cronin is bringing to the film that reflects the classic Raimi vibe. Although it might be a step down from the 2013 remake, it’s a fantastic entry that slyly reboots the series while never negating its predecessors.
In fact, one might say that Evil Dead Rise is…groovy in pulling it off.