Is it wrong that grotesque violence and bizarre imagery could leave a person feeling so warm and happy? That’s the feeling audiences have returning to the Evil Dead series — a personal favorite of mine. It means being back in a world where Deadites are a threat to any poor sap who decides to read a horrid book bound in human flesh and written in blood.
Directed by Lee Cronin and produced by Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, and Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead Rise is an excellent new entry in one of the horror genre’s best franchises. The shift in location, great atmosphere, and subtle fan service make it feel unique from the rest.
The film follows Beth (Lily Sullivan), a roadie who returns to Los Angeles — not Detroit, surprisingly enough — to the apartment of her estranged sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland). Although going through some tough times following a separation from her husband, Ellie is trying to keep a stable home life for her kids, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies), and Kassie (Nell Fisher). Following an earthquake that leaves a hole in the apartment’s foundation leading to an abandoned bank vault, Danny finds a book and vinyl records. After opening the book and putting a record on, Danny awakens a malevolent force intent on wreaking havoc on the family…starting with Beth.
What makes the film unique to the series is Cronin’s exchange of a cabin in the woods for an apartment in the city. Though that sounds like it would make the characters less isolated and in closer proximity to help, Cronin does an excellent job of establishing that they’re on their own. The building is a month away from being demolished and completely abandoned, save for a few neighbors. The stairs get demolished through the earthquake or the Deadites, the elevator breaks down, and the power goes out. Ellie, Beth, and the kids are trapped, no one is coming to save them, and it’s hammered home how bleak their situation is. Much like Evil Dead (2013), the location's atmosphere makes it feel like the apartment building is a character in and of itself.
The change of scenery is welcomed. However, a preconceived concern was that switching from a group of adult friends to a family with kids would nerf the series’ trademark gratuitous violence to focus on the horror of a possessed matriarch. Making it less of an exploitation film and more in line with something like The Conjuring (2013). Those concerns are quickly put away while viewing — the Deadites don’t discriminate based on age. No one in the family is safe, and the things they do are creatively vile.
You can’t have blood and carnage without a horrifying threat to inflict it, and Sutherland’s performance as the demonic Ellie brazenly leads the charge. From the moment she’s introduced as a Deadite, she captures the demented physicality of the role with her jagged movements and peculiar ticks. The simple image of her walking over to the stove and cooking eggs is incredibly unnerving, and she savors every second of it.
Her verbal savagery matches her physicality. Like the great Deadites before her, she doesn’t just attack her victims but finds the shame they hide inside and shines a spotlight on it. Between lecturing Beth for not being there when Ellie needed her most or manipulating Kassie with promises that her dad will come home, she goes for the bone marrow regarding personal insecurities.
Cronin plays up a love of the franchise with the sheer number of nods and easter eggs spread throughout for fans of the franchise. The film uses dutch angles, zoom-ins, and even opens with the classic demon vision and accompanying growling sound effects, which, after an excellent cold open, leads to an epic title card. There are also several quotes ripped right from Evil Dead II (1987), a few nods to characters and actors’ names from previous entries, and even the grandfather clock makes an appearance — tragically, the Oldsmobile Delta 88 does not. The details are fun to catch but not so obvious that someone watching this as a standalone film would find them distracting.
While by no means reinventing the wheel, Evil Dead Rise is a welcomed continuation of the series that breathes new life into the Deadites. It’s atmospheric, gory, and the 90-minute runtime lends itself to brisk pacing and heart-pounding tension. Like a custom-built chainsaw gauntlet, the best word to describe Evil Dead Rise is “Groovy.”