Halloween came a bit early this year with Evil Dead Rise – where I was first and foremost hoping for a direct sequel to the 2013 Evil Dead to finally catch up with Mia, that poor girl who fought till the end against demons and her drug addiction with one arm ripped off while it was raining blood. But instead we get a standalone film with an uncertain timeline, this time written and directed by the Irishman Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground and the horror short Ghost Train). Evil Dead Rise was originally scheduled to be released direct-to streaming on HBO Max, but when the film got overly positive reactions from the test screenings, the studio, Warner Brothers, decided to take a U-turn and rather go for a wide theatrical release. And what a genius decision that was, as this is yet another strong entry in a four decade old horror franchise that still manages to rip everyone a new one in full Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster force filled with carnage, mayhem, grim diabolical violence, gallons of blood and it’s probably the goriest since Evil Dead II (1987).
After a brutal opening which includes head scalping and a severed head, followed by a delightfully sinister and creative title sequence for Evil Dead Rise to set the tone, we take a big leap from the known primitive cabin setting to an old, deteriorated apartment complex in Los Angeles (even tough it’s filmed on a location in New Zealand). Here we meet the fresh single mother and tattoo artist Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her three kids in the midst of some rough times as the complex is soon to be demolished and her cheating husband recently left her. After her sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) comes for a visit, an earthquake strikes which blocks the building’s entries and makes them isolated (just like the flood did in the first one). The quake also uncovers a secret room with a vault which has been hidden under the building for hundreds of years, filled with hanging crucifixes, a gramophone and – yeah of course – a certain familiar book made of human flesh that was never meant to be found.
Ellie’s son takes the book, the gramophone and some old records up to his room, and as he plays one of the records on it while the book opens up to show some gory illustrations, it conjures an angry, sadistic demon which then possesses Ellie in the elevator. After they find her in the bathtub in full demon makeup, she gives an evil grin to ensure us that mommy’s with the maggots now, and it’s a non-stop pandemonium from here on.
Sam Raimi, who’s only been behind the scenes as producer alongside with Bruce Campbell, have been pretty careful to handpick the right filmmakers for the projects, and Lee Cronin proved to be a bullseye for this franchise. He adds a lot of raw energy, tension and flexible camerawork with the cinematographer Dave Garbett who also worked on Ash vs Evil Dead. We have several nods to the earlier films and a pretty awesome tribute to The Shining. The film also has much of the same gritty and slightly more realistic tone as Fede Alvare’s Evil Dead which makes it easy to imagine these two sharing the same universe.
Evil Dead Rise is also the first in the franchise to include child actors, which can be seen as a red flag. But don’t worry ’bout that, the film doesn’t hold much back regardless, and with its R-rating, 1,720 gallons of fake blood, it delivers, even more than I expected. The violence is relentless, as it should be, with flawless effects that goes more and more over-the top to the point it made me think of Peter Jackson’s Braindead. We also have the fair share of injuries, one of which being a cheese grater peeling someone’s leg, and of course some glass chewing which always looks unpleasant.
Also great performances across the board, most notably Alyssa Sutherland as the possessed Ellie, which is on an unstoppable beast mode here.
So, even though this entry doesn’t have anything much to offer on the surface, other than a new claustrophobic setting in a decaying apartment building and a briefly expanded lore of The Book of the Dead, it’s at least a highly entertaining and adrenaline-filled thrill ride with dedicated actors and solid film-making in general. And I’m not expecting more from an Evil Dead film.
Writer and director: Lee Cronin
Country & year: New Zealand, USA, Ireland, 2023
Actors: Mirabai Pease, Richard Crouchley, Anna-Maree Thomas, Lily Sullivan, Noah Paul, Alyssa Sutherland, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, Nell Fisher