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No One Is Safe from Slaughter in the Messy But Entertaining 'Evil Dead Rise'

By Lindsay Traves | Film | April 21, 2023 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | April 21, 2023 |


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What’s magical about the Evil Dead franchise as a whole isn’t that it’s difficult to mess up, but despite that, all installments have still gone the extra mile. The lore is shakey, the continuity is a bit muddy, and the mythological Book of the Dead isn’t singular. That allows for a lot of creative license to mess with just what deadites are and can do, and that’s left some incredible creators to take the chainsaw and run with it. 2013’s remake did what seemed impossible. It managed to be its own standalone horror movie with a completely distinct tone from its predecessors but still leaned heavily enough on the series lore to feel like an Evil Dead movie. The show, Ash vs Evil Dead came after, and chucked away the remake’s emotionally dour take on the story in favor of a cranked-up version of the sequels’ original comedy. Now, ten years after the latest feature comes Lee Cronin and Evil Dead Rise, a rich blend of the remake’s bleak vibe and the original trilogy’s comedic tone.

Cronin suggested after the screening that he got the job after pitching deadites in a high rise, and it makes sense. Ghostface left suburbia for New York City, it was time for the demons to leave the cabin and head to California. (Yes I know Ghostface also went to California, but he still kills in big houses; don’t come at me). After a brief cold open, complete with a drone shot that winks at the classic Raimi cam, the movie flashes back to a dank high rise in Los Angeles. Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) lives there with her three kids and is blindsided when her sister, Beth (Lily Sullivan), shows up looking for support. Ellie is meant to be the rock for Beth, but Beth has been too deep in her own world to notice that Ellie’s partner left her and she’s being kicked out of her crumbling apartment. An earthquake hits, prompting Danny (Morgan Davies) to find a mysterious book and some vinyl amongst the rubble, and when the record is played, something evil is awoken. Kunda Astratta *mumbles like Ash in Army of Darkness after trying desperately to confirm if the last word was “inaktu.”* And just like that, a deadite army rains upon the complex.

Cronin’s movie spends too much time setting the scene, meandering through a cold open (albeit one that rips) and a lengthy breakdown of the family dynamics that ultimately don’t amount to much. But once it gets to the good stuff, it earns its stripes. The kills are grotesque, the blood is in large supply, and absolutely no one, not even children, is safe from slaughter. For all the tiring “sister” drama, there’s a POV shot through a peephole that makes for such a creative collection of carnage, I’ve not stopped yelling about it since. But the peephole seems like the only time the movie really utilizes its high-rise setting for good scares, and the entire thing could have happened anywhere. Where it could have leaned on Italian demon horror, Demons 2 or even Attack the Block for ways to exploit a collection of units for exciting sequences, most of what happens is relegated to a single apartment.

While deadite rules have always been fluid, this take suffers from not spending enough time laying out its own ground rules. It’s unclear what spreads the terror, and the new book’s big-bad-final-boss never feels like a threat. Chainsaw-wielding Beth skirts danger with ease and it’s unclear why the “dead by dawn” chanting horde would hold back. And while the lore is often open for interpretation, one thing it didn’t need was religious iconography. Deadites have always been vague demons coated in some zombie tropes, even with the use of satanic icons in the 2013 remake, but this approach spits a bit too close to the “your mother sucks c***s in Hell” of it all.

Though the series has driven its Delta through various genres and media, be it horror, comedy, or musical stage play, the one consistent thing is the blood, and boy does Cronin bring it. After his string of social media posts from production hinting at red stains, Cronin did not disappoint and made sure to soak all of the revolting body trauma in bright red goop. His deadite look is unique to his movie, and he ties it all together with gallons and liters of crimson-tinted sludge. This hemoglobin maniac dropped her popcorn to clap when an elevator sequence culminated in a burgundy tide.

Though Beth is our chainsaw-wielding hero, this movie belongs to Alyssa Sutherland as Ellie. Her stark cheekbones and high eyebrows paired with her menacing grin let her slip from “cool mom” right into the role of morbid threat. Yes, there’s the physicality of her long limbs wrapped around ceilings and tangled in elevator cords but there’s a reason her terrifying smile is plastered on the poster. No one is going to take Henrietta’s (Ted Raimi) crown, but Ellie might put up a good fight for it.

The latest installment in Evil Dead canon is a messy story with confusing rules and easy outs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great time. It knows what it owes its existence to and gets caught up trying to balance a family drama with easter eggs and multiple uses of the phrase, “come get some.” Its seams are evident on the big screen, and it’s often obvious that this was made for a streaming viewing. But for all of that, it’s a terrifying deep dive into the threat of the Kandarian demon that’s sure to leave you rattled and shielding yourself from blood spray.

Evil Dead Rise premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival and hits theaters April 21, 2023