Enhancing the punishing and graphically gory nature of Fede Álvarez’s 2013 “reimagined” Evil Dead and the more comedic inclination of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 (1987), Lee Cronin‘s Evil Dead Rise is a manic, at-times disgusting horror treat that proves there’s still a whole lotta (after) life left in this franchise.
Given that Cronin seems to delight in placing his cast in bloody, brutal peril – including the endangerment of young children – it seems perhaps quite cruel to praise Evil Dead Rise as a gleeful horror trip, but it’s that boldness and the writer/director’s penchant for finding the dark levity throughout that makes this fifth series instalment (which, in actuality, stands quite singularly on its own) as effective as it is; it’s a film that balances its humour and horror equally without undermining either.
Changing the scenery from the majority of the series’ staple of a cabin in the woods – save for the bonkers medieval setting of the second sequel, 1992’s Army of Darkness – Evil Dead Rise moves to the city, setting up an apartment block as the dwelling for ultimate possession. On the end of said possession is mother of three Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland, a genre star if ever there was one), whose kids find the Book of the Dead, the macguffin scribbles that have long been at the centre of each film’s eventual horror, and unknowingly transfer its inner evil to her; enter a demonically-embodied Ellie and her appetite to savagely murder her children with every household tool and appliance possible. (Two words. Cheese grater).
Fending off mother dearest is Beth (Lily Sullivan, embodying final girl grit and charm with an ease), Ellie’s sister, whose intended visit as the fun aunt to swoop in and spoil and impress her nieces and nephew is cut drastically short when blood hits the fan. Much like Jane Levy’s masterful turn in the 2013 film, Sullivan is supplied with an alarming amount of depth in the early stages of the film, making her Beth an easy character for us to root for. By no means is Evil Dead Rise aiming for “elevated horror” status (though we do get a great set piece involving an elevator), but it isn’t treating its audience as if they can’t appreciate an emotional connection to characters in addition to the bloodshed they expect from such a film as this.
That being said, this is still an Evil Dead film at the end of the day, and Cronin is all too aware of the dumb fun needed throughout to honour the campy, yet disturbing spirit of Raimi’s earlier films. Certain lines of dialogue and camera shots speak to a fan service temperament regarding Raimi’s genre-defining offerings, not to mention the obvious love of practical effects (the absence of CGI blood, for starters, is quite the treat for purists), but Evil Dead Rise still very much harnesses its own identity. The claustrophobic mentality adopted through the new setting allows the film to operate on a sinister, uncomfortable level, but the exaggerated nature of its violent content – and Sutherland’s committed, demented performance – continually brings proceedings back down to a plane where the comedy of the actions takes precedence.
Relentless and beautifully horrific, Evil Dead Rise is a perfect addition to the franchise. Those that haven’t partaken in any of the previous films will easily find this an enjoyable jumping point – if, you know, endless R-rated bloodshed is enjoyable to you – but for the long-time viewers, its old-school-meets-new-school approach to tested storytelling will undoubtedly tickle your fancy with its fresh air injection. Uninitiated or devoted Deadite, either way horror fans are in for a bloody treat.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Evil Dead Rise is screening in Australian theatres from April 20th, 2023.