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Evil Dead Rise marks the fifth film in the franchise that Sam Raimi kicked off with his 1981 indie debut. The brand has certainly come a long way, spawning video games, comics, toys, and, of course, sequels. A chapter that follows more in the vein of 2013’s Evil Dead, what we have here is a gnarly, in-your-face horror flick -ultra-violent, very bloody, and darkly funny. It may not break any new ground, but as far as entertaining splatterfests go, Evil Dead Rise is a winner.
The plot follows Beth (played by Aussie actress Lily Sullivan), who hits L.A. to visit her sister Ellie (played by Alyssa Sutherland). Ellie is having a bit of a hard time raising three children – two teenagers and a little girl – alone in a rundown apartment. It’s an evening that should give these two sisters a chance to unite and support each other as they enter difficult new stages in their lives, but once a familiar cursed book comes into the picture… let’s just say that they’re all in for one hell of a night.
It’s an impressively mounted horror film from writer-director Lee Cronin, who’s making just his second feature here following 2019 supernatural film The Hole in the Ground. It’s clear that Cronin is a big fan of the franchise, crafting an entry that pays big respect to what’s come before, while establishing his own brand of energetic depravity. Longtime fans should be in good hands – there are plenty of nods and the demonic power at the franchise’s centre is expanded – while the plot is standalone enough to welcome in horror-loving newcomers.
The film kicks off with the requisite horror opening, nicely providing a taste of what’s to come: possession, blood, death, humour. From here we head off to meet the characters we’ll be experiencing the horror with throughout. The character establishment, while undeniably basic, is solid, painting us individuals that aren’t too difficult to root for – particularly thanks to good performances. Too many horror films these days seem to forget the importance of providing at least some character development. It’s not always the case, but elements of tension are lost if you don’t care at all about the people in harm’s way. Now, I did find that this first-quarter establishing chunk does teeter on the edge of being too long – the character elements being laid out aren’t all that interesting to fill this section – but all’s forgiven once the mayhem does get going.
Also done very well here: geography. These type of films need to also have a geographical focus. Like a video game, it’s important to understand the layout of the narrative’s location – the limitations, the proximities, the potential escape routes. After all, further tension comes with knowing why our victims can’t simply just leave. Cronin and his team ensure that the areas of this hellish playground are introduced organically, getting maximum usage out of an overall small location once hell is unleashed.
Whether or not you find Evil Dead Rise scary, of course, depends on what rattles your nerves and what you consider “scary”. This film is firmly on the visceral side of horror, shaking you with grotesque visuals and a highly stressful sound design, as opposed to creeping you out with fear of the unknown. Personally, I would have liked a few more moments of creepy tension that work up to unnerving crescendos and jump scares, because that’s what works on my cinematic fears. But still, Evil Dead Rise’s horror is horrific, in the best sense, with a mission to pummel your senses with blood-soaked mayhem. In many ways, the film plays out like an action movie, giving us showdown after showdown as this family attempts to survive the evil that has them in its sights. The film ups its potential body count by giving Ellie a number of neighbours, but while they did provide opportunity for more carnage, I found that these characters weren’t used all that well. Certain individuals are there for a quick gag (pun intended), when the film could have used them to up the number of set pieces.
Again, this is a very, very bloody film, and horror lovers with a penchant for the extreme will have a good time with just how far Cronin and his team go. Naturally, having children in the story will make it more dicey for some, but horror is horror – and Evil Dead Rise doesn’t give a shit. I’m glad it doesn’t. The film offers up a plethora of gloriously sadistic sequences, and just when you think you’ve had your fill… take a breath, the crimson flood isn’t over. The finale… whoa.
As mentioned, strong performances here. In particular, Sullivan, nailing it as a badass final girl that really gets put through the wringer, and Sutherland, going all out in an exhausting performance as the poor mother who finds herself a vessel for savage evil.
Showcasing strong direction from Cronin, Evil Dead Rise is a slickly crafted and gleefully mean chapter of this long-running franchise. The high shock factor is made palatable (somewhat?) with a devilish sense of humour and the film’s demonically spirited energy makes for a strong pace. Evil Dead Rise won’t be for all tastes, obviously, but those keen for guts-to-the-wall mayhem are in for a – dare I say it – fun ride.