Originally slated to drop on HBO Max, writer/director Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise was given a theatrical release after glowing reactions from test audiences. Good thing it was, too, because Cronin’s film is a relentless chainsaw to the face that deserves to be seen on the big screen with a screaming audience.
The fifth film in the Evil Dead franchise, Rise takes the terror out of the cabin and sets it in a high-rise apartment building in Los Angeles during a vicious storm. Guitar technician, Beth (Lily Sullivan) has just arrived to visit her sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and Ellie’s three kids. But after an earthquake unveils a long-hidden Book of the Dead, one thing leads to another and the family—as well as other tenants—find themselves under siege by malevolent spirits who won’t stop until everyone is dead by dawn.
As was the case with Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead (2013), it’s as obvious as a blood-smeared smack across the head that Cronin understood the assignment from the first few minutes. Cronin and cinematographer Dave Garbett’s inspired camera work recaptures the look of Raimi’s films, with sweeping shots and forced perspectives that give the imagery a living malevolence all its own. By the time the title appears, you’ll know Evil Dead Rise is intense. Bloody. And so utterly depraved it’ll swallow your soul.
Those of you wishing for the slapstick comedy stylings of Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness will find plenty of gloriously gruesome gags, but Evil Dead Rise is much more in the ruptured vein of Alvarez’s film and Raimi’s original. As soon as it roars to life, it hardly ever lets up. These films have always been a sort of Pandora’s Box narrative, and in this case, it’s a box bursting into a thousand pieces as the evil comes screeching out of it. That’s not all that different from other entries in the franchise, but there’s a frantic energy to Cronin’s sequel that separates itself from the pack in terms of confused chaos. If Evil Dead (2013) was a bloodthirsty wolf intent on tearing a few throats, Evil Dead Rise is a rapid dog, foaming at the mouth and out of control.
The film is an exhausting ninety+ minutes of abject horror, to the extent it can be too much. You never quite know what sort of madness you’re in for next, from scalp-ripping to flesh biting and cringe-y terror like the use of that damn cheese grater (already an icon in and of itself, for good reason). At the same time, Evil Dead Rise sprints so fast, throws so many frights at you, that it almost feels like the film is worried there isn’t enough substance to keep you engaged if it’s not constantly clawing at your face (evident by some under-explored lore). Bellowing sound design, Stephen McKeon’s ravenous score and endless screaming are so all consuming it’ll make your ears bleed. Not to mention deadites flying in and out of frame and jump scares galore. There’s a repetitive nature to the amount of times a deadite will take a kill shot, faint, and get back up again. As a viewer, you start to feel the same. Barely able to stand, but dragged along for the ride anyway.
The film delivers on all of the gore, intensity and soul sucking you can handle. That’s what these movies are all about, so A+ there. But I do think it would have benefitted from calming the hell down for just one minute to focus on the emotional reactions of characters, because there’s actually a solid theme at the black heart of it all that gets drowned out by the madness. Possibly pregnant and on the verge of taking a huge step in her career, Beth isn’t sure she’s ready to be a mother. Possessed and out of her mind, Ellie’s kids, teens Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Danny (Morgan Davies) and youngest, Kassie (Nell Fisher in a phenomenal performance from such a young actor), are all looking to Beth to keep them alive. With these three children—plus two others on the same floor--Evil Dead Rise is the darkest of any of the Evil Dead movies because it puts kids at the forefront as potential victims, and it isn’t afraid to put them through the grinder. We truly feel their terror of a mother out to kill them (Sutherland is absolutely terrifying in the role), as well as Beth’s fighting drive to overcome her fears of motherhood in a portrayal by Sullivan that makes you want to stand up and cheer. There's a lot to chew on with these stakes, but little time committed to their impact.
Character issues and sometimes so overwhelming it's numbing intensity aside, Evil Dead Rise is a loud bang of an Evil Dead film straight out of Ash’s boomstick. Not only is it a furious beast hellbent on destroying everything in its path, it manages to offer up plenty of fun Easter eggs for fans that are subtle enough to not distract from the moment. And for those of you wondering if it offers anything new? Outside of the cleverly used setting, let’s just say the third act gets wild. Though my least favorite of the bunch, Evil Dead Rise is a worthy sequel and a strong outing from Lee Cronin that has me anxious to see what horrors the director will concoct next. Don’t be a screw head. See it in the loudest, rowdiest theater you can.
Evil Dead Rise screeches into theaters April 21st from Warner Bros.
By Matt Konopka