Evil Dead Rise
"Evil Dead Rise doesn’t add much that’s new to the franchise, but it does deliver on entertainment."

Back in 1981, Sam Raimi’s wildly innovative The Evil Dead transformed horror cinema, both in terms of style and tone. It has spawned a host of imitations, a revised version, a sequel, a remake, a series and more. How does one add to a franchise like this and still produce something that’s fun and exciting to watch? With a tight story structure and a willingness to break long-established rules, Lee Cronin gives it his best shot.

The connection between the prologue, which is set in a traditional cabin in the woods, and the main part of the story, which takes place in a run down urban apartment block, takes a while to emerge, but there’s no need to worry about that, as the early scenes feature as a nice taster course to whet your appetite. This time the cabin is the chosen vacation spot of a young couple and their friend. We discover them after racing through the woods in the classic tracking shot which Raimi invented the first time around, only to discover that this isn’t an evil spirit but a drone with which one of them is playing around. Another, however, is already ill. When her friend goes to check on her we know what will happen but it’s nicely delivered. There’s a playful little aside which invites us to wonder if Emily Brontë was familiar with deadites, and then we’re straight into the action, which combines no-holds-barred viciousness with the franchise’s established black humour and, at the end of the sequence, a curious sense of joy.

When we move into the city, we are immediately ensconced in the kind of scummy, disintegrating building where Ash Williams would feel at home. It’s pretty much condemned, with very few tenants remaining. Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is trying to find a place to relocate her family to, but money is short and everything is a struggle. She could really do without her errant sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) turning up on her doorstep looking for a place to crash. Teenagers Danny (Morgan Davis) and Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and their little sister Kassie (Nell Fisher) want to keep the peace and a pizza quest is organised, but as they’re returning through the car park, an earthquake hits the area. Climbing down to investigate what is reputedly an old bank vault where the ground has given way, Danny searches for treasure. What he finds is a book and a couple of old vinyl records. Fans will know all too well what this means. Even newcomers will likely recognise that reading the book and playing the records is a very bad idea.

That the family’s already precarious situation gets much, much worse from there will come as no surprise to anyone. It’s how it does so that gives Cronin the space to put his own stamp on the franchise. There’s an inventive scene in an elevator which echoes the famous tree rape scene from the original, but without the element of sexual violence. This does not indicate any hesitation when it comes to viciousness, however, and there are quite a few scenes here which will test the nerves (and stomachs) of hardened horror fans. Cronin also pulls no punches when it comes to the younger characters, which perhaps makes sense given that he directed The Hole In The Ground. Danny and Bridget are not scantily clad, beer swilling almost-adults, but young teenagers whom most adults will feel an instinctive desire to protect, and yet it soon becomes clear that they’re at just as much risk as the older characters. Even little Kassie faces the full on vengeful cruelty of the Ancient Sumerian dead, though she has only a doll’s head on a stick with which to defend herself.

The upshot of all this is that Cronin is able to keep us guessing for a long time as to who – if anyone – is going to survive. Though Bruce Campbell contributes some vocals for the record, there is no Ash here to advise people on what to do, and whilst the book itself may contain some answers, using it carries serious risks. We see its contents a lot more directly than in previous works and if its illustrations look rather more like Eighties album covers than anything inspired by the artwork of Ancient Sumer, it is perhaps reasonable to assume that it adapts itself anew for every reader, in light of its other tricks.

The production design team here does a great job. The apartment block looks believable, albeit a little baroque for Los Angeles, yet perfectly fits the visual tone Cronin is aiming for, especially after it’s been splattered with a bit of blood. The junk lying around in the family home fits with the characters whilst providing material for combat. It’s a shame not to see more made of Beth’s proficiency with audio equipment (she’s a sound engineer), but there’s plenty going on to keep the film moving forwards, and Cronin keeps managing to up the ante of grotesquerie right up to the end.

Despite all of this good stuff, there are moments when the film feels just a little too conventional to live up to its predecessors. Lithe, muscular young women slicked with blood remain a welcome change from the whimpering love interest heroines of yesteryear, but they’re now something of a cliché, and whilst the return of a certain gardening implement may raise a cheer from fans, some of the choices made towards the end are rather safe. All in all, Evil Dead Rise doesn’t add much that’s new to the franchise, but it does deliver on entertainment, capturing the unique vibe which fans have come to love, and that’s no mean feat.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2023
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Evil Dead Rise packshot
The reunion of two estranged sisters is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them into a primal battle for survival as they face the most nightmarish version of family imaginable.

Director: Lee Cronin

Writer: Lee Cronin

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

Year: 2023

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: US

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