The Evil Dead franchise is a fascinating one. Despite being around for over 40 years and pulling in new legions of diehard Deadite fans every decade, there have only been four movies that make up its cinematic legacy - three of which are essentially the same premise.
Yes, there are comics, a video game and a television show, but Evil Dead has by and large avoided the kind of oversaturation and degradation of quality that similar horror series find themselves in.
There’s always been a wise amount of trepidation over adding any new feature to the canon, which made expectations for the latest, fifth film in the franchise, this year’s Evil Dead Rise, all the greater.
Thankfully, there’s an extensive amount of freedom that writer and director Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) has to play with, finally moving the demonic action far away from that cursed cabin in the woods to the city of Los Angeles.
Yet even with that change of scenery and an entirely fresh cast of characters, Cronin chooses to not stray too far from the structure of Sam Raimi’s original pair of 80s Evil Dead films and Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake.
Like the three of those, once Evil Dead Rise starts to let the blood flow, it hardly lets up, continuously ramping up the demented violence to a feverish pitch by its end. Every film in this franchise manages to hit a point that feels like it's capturing the essence of insanity itself, and Rise is no exception. It’s a mean ass movie that spares no feelings.
The story is centered on a somewhat disjointed family living high up in an LA apartment complex. Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is a single mother to three kids, teenagers Danny (Morgan Davies) and Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and their younger sister Kassie (Nell Fisher).
On the same night that Ellie’s own sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) comes to visit, an earthquake strikes the building, knocks out the power, damages the elevator, and destroys the staircase, trapping everyone inside. What’s more, the quake uncovers the hiding spot of a certain evil book, and unholy hell is quickly unleashed on the building.
If you have a hard time dealing with seeing children in intense peril, Evil Dead Rise is not the movie for you. Ellie is the unlucky soul that gets chosen for consumption once the Deadite demons are released from the book, and Cronin’s film mines exceptionally cruel levels of terror from having this once loving mother viciously attack her children both physically and emotionally.
Beth, who has run from responsibilities and hardships all her life, is suddenly forced to keep these kids alive as best she can and defend them from her demonically-possessed sister. No amount of therapy could ever possibly heal all the traumatic harm that this group experiences.
Evil Dead Rise will please any horror fan looking for some gory mayhem. It’s the kind of movie where, when we see Ellie at work with her in-home tattoo machine, or notice how the camera lingers ever so slightly on a cheese grater in the kitchen, we know these things will inevitably be used in the worst of ways later on.
The Evil Dead franchise is one that holds a notable reputation for its exuberant displays of bodily harm, and Rise lives up to that legacy with some genuine stomach-churners. I consider myself pretty well desensitized to extreme movie violence, but there are a couple of moments in this that still made me wince or have to look away.
It’s a punishing movie, upsetting even, and it’s there that Cronin’s film begins to struggle with finding a proper tone. Rise mostly borrows from the grim harshness of the 2013 remake but also tries for some of madcap tongue-in-cheekness of Raimi’s films. They often clash with each other.
Some parts, like when one character chokes to death on someone’s ripped-off appendage, are obviously meant to come across as funny, but for the most part it’s difficult to tell whether certain moments are intended to be jokes or not. Maybe it’s just hard to reconcile the gallows humor with the extreme physical and psychological harm that’s befalling children. Either way, it doesn’t quite work.
The pacing also misses the mark when it comes to matching the relentlessness of the previous films. There’s a lot of stopping and starting, and while the cast delivers some good performances (Sutherland in particular is outstanding), the characters often feel like they’re underreacting to the horror that’s right in front of them. Still, Cronin’s film does manage to reach that inspired level of insanity that all of these films possess. The finale of this bloodbath all but redefines the term carnage.
I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this film but I was definitely affected by it. It successfully terrified me and has been bothering my brain ever since, a testament to the power of the genre when it’s at its best. Evil Dead Rise is one lean, mean horror machine, and it’s here to tell you that life comes at you fast but death comes even faster.
‘Evil Dead Rise’ is now playing in theaters.