Sit Back and Watch in Fear, Awe and Wicked Delight as the ‘Evil Dead Rise’

Lee Cronin's standalone continuation of the iconic horror series is a gruesome and groovy time at the movies.

by Sean Coates
Evil Dead Rise

Anthologization needs to make a comeback. In this era, franchises choose one of two paths: becoming overwhelmingly serialized, assembly line products that by design perpetually keep the wheels turning with ever-diminishing returns. Or, they get drunk on their own inflated self-importance within the cinematic landscape and cash in on a film’s cultural cache under the guise of “honoring the legacy.” Thankfully, the horror genre has stayed largely unaffected by this cultural shift in franchise storytelling, which is strange considering it is arguably the one most defined by its tropes and iconography where they are the most identifiable.

Evil Dead is one such series that has traversed not only genre, but also storytelling form, from the original trilogy, a remake in 2013, as well as its own legacy sequel in the form of the television series Ash vs. The Evil Dead. It is absolutely ripe for potential anthologization, which studios really should embrace more. Even Halloween was originally envisioned as an anthology, but the success of the Michael Myers character changed the course of the series, even if we got a taste of what it would have looked like with Halloween III: Season of the Witch. That being said, it is difficult to imagine a continuation of the Evil Dead franchise without Sam Raimi at the helm and Bruce Campbell as the wisecracking, chainsaw-wielding Ash Williams. However, Campbell, Raimi, and producer Robert Tapert hand-selected Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin to continue the beloved series in a compelling new direction. The result is Evil Dead Rise, a great new standalone entry that is as macabre, chaotic, and bloody as those that came before it.

The eerie setting of a creepy cabin in the woods has been substituted for a rickety, condemned, soon-to-be-demolished apartment complex in Los Angeles. In a tiny apartment lives single mother Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), struggling to raise her three children. Reuniting with her estranged younger sister Beth (Lily Sullivan), tensions flare, and guilt and blame are thrown at one another as they meet for the first time since before Ellie’s divorce. But their squabbles are cut short when the eldest child Danny (Morgan Davies, the first openly transgender actor in a major studio horror film) finds the infamous Necronomicon deep in the bowels of their building. Passages are read, incantations recited, and bibbidi bobbidi boo, the Deadites are unleashed as terror and chaos reign upon this unfortunate family. And when Ellie is possessed by the flesh-eating Kandarian demon, Beth must protect her nieces and nephew from the evil their mother has become.

Studio horror reboots are usually made with tunnel vision for dollar signs and to squeeze every last drop from the teet of the nostalgia cash cow, but this is how it is done right. With an inspired creative team and a cast that all fully commit and buy into the madness, Evil Dead Rise is a beautiful combination of staying true to the ethos and DIY spirit of the original horror classic and studio filmmaking ingenuity in the COVID era. Nothing screams “COVID production” more than a Hollywood film from an Irish director shot in New Zealand with a cast of mostly Australian actors primarily set in one location. And with the exception of Beth’s introduction and the cold open/prologue of the film (that actually takes place after the events of the film and features the best title card drop of 2023 that will be hard to beat), the film almost exclusively takes place within the decrepit and decaying high rise. Cronin and Co. spare absolutely no expense from the film’s modest $12 million budget and deliver on what audiences crave from this film; an old-school, grimy, tactile demonic chiller that Cronin states used 6,500 liters of fake blood during the production.

Evil Dead Rise is much closer in tone to the Fede Álvarez remake, but it still strongly evokes the spirit of the Raimi trilogy. A group of unfortunate souls is trapped in an isolated or confined space with parasitic demons they accidentally conjured, but having children involved in this haunting makes it just that little bit darker and more sinister. Especially since the Three Stooges-style slapstick of Raimi’s films is dialed down for a sense of humor that is much more twisted. While on the other side of that coin, the film triples down on the brutal, grungy, and visceral gore and violence, making excellent use of amazing practical effects. Rise features some of the gnarliest, most intense horror sequences of the entire Evil Dead series. From a Deadite eating glass, a child attacked with a tattoo needle, the much talked about cheese grater being scraped down someone’s leg, and an elevator flooding with blood in tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (again, 6,500L of fake blood), this film truly earns its R rating and is not for the squeamish.

In between all the nasty gizzard-spilling and demonic mayhem, Evil Dead Rise, much like Zach Cregger’s Barbarianpresents an unexpected and disarmingly sympathetic tale of motherhood in its own wicked way. Cronin explores these themes without the empty, overbearing ostentatious ambiguity of most “elevated horror” films and instead confronts them more directly, which is much more effective. Beth is introduced to the film testing positive on a pregnancy test, while Ellie is crumbling under the pressure of taking care of her children as a recent divorcée. Beth loves her nieces and nephew, but is unsure if she is capable of being a mother or if she even wants to keep the baby. So when Ellie becomes a Deadite and begins to terrorize the family, Beth undergoes a most unorthodox parental litmus test as she does whatever she can to protect the children in this grizzly game of cat and mouse.

Upgrading Evil Dead Rise from an HBO Max exclusive to a theatrical release was a rare masterstroke from a company that has continually made some bafflingly disastrous decisions over the last twelve months. Lee Cronin has crafted the perfect blueprint for how to reboot without being a hollow, self-aggrandizing exercise. This standalone continuation brings a harder, punk-rock edge to the iconic horror series and the result is a gruesome and groovy crowdpleaser of the highest order.

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