It’s hard to believe that we’ve gone 10 years without an Evil Dead film. Fede Álvarez‘s 2013 remake has only aged better over time with more and more fans giving it a second chance. The same goes for the Ash vs Evil Dead series, which only stuck around for 3 seasons but has been deeply treasured ever since. Well, it’s safe to say we won’t have to wait as long to see this franchise return after Evil Dead Rise. The latest chapter in the series is a standalone story that takes the deadite mayhem from a lone cabin in the woods to a condemned downtown Los Angeles apartment complex. Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) was handpicked by original creator-director Sam Raimi himself and just within the first few minutes, it becomes obvious why. Evil Dead Rise is stylish, brutal, and more importantly, bloody as hell.
We follow Beth (Lily Sullivan), a guitar tech, who finally takes a break from living on the road to visit her somewhat estranged sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her kids in their LA apartment. The family, consisting of brother Danny (Morgan Davies), big sister Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and little sister Kassie (Nell Fisher), love each other dearly despite their differences and have stuck together following the recent departure of their deadbeat father. Aunt Beth returns on one gloomy night and tries her best to make up for lost time. It may be too late though, as the family is set to leave the deteriorating complex which will soon be demolished. But when a large earthquake leads the kids to discover a hidden room underneath the parking garage – tying back to the building’s old connections to the church – they discover the ancient Book of the Dead and make their stay permanent.
For those who were unsure if Evil Dead could work outside of a classic cabin in the woods scenario, writer-director Lee Cronin pulls off this damned LA apartment setting seamlessly. And for those fans even more concerned about plot, the move to the city does come with solid reasoning. The Book of the Dead, or Necronomicon, in Evil Dead Rise is not the same book from Sam Raimi’s original films or even from Evil Dead (2013). Cronin has actually suggested that it’s the last of the 3 books Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) comes across in his quest from Army of Darkness. The book in Evil Dead Rise is bound in flesh and has its pages drenched in blood writing, just like what we’ve seen before. However, this book has a whole separate personality from the other two, and features gnarly demonic imagery so disturbing that it stays with you forever.
With this new Necronomicon, locked by sharp teeth no less, Evil Dead Rise introduces a new kind of deadite to the series. Our main villainous force comes in mother Ellie, the first to get possessed and soon-to-be mother of all. Lee Cronin maintains the spirit of Sam Raimi with dashes of brutally excellent dark humor and gore that is often so far out you can’t help but quiver in your seat. That being said, Cronin still finds ways to branch out and leave his individual print on the franchise. This can be seen with mother Ellie and our new brand of deadite, which feel slightly less hysterical and more straight to the point than what fans are used to. Evil Dead Rise has just enough cruel humor, self-mutilation, and gallons of vomit and blood to please any fan, yet it all falls into Cronin’s strict and much more direct tone.
The true star of this new approach to Evil Dead is without a doubt Alyssa Sutherland’s mother deadite. She’s arguably given the most material to work with and does a great job of humanizing her motherly role before the demons come knocking. And once she’s full deadite, Sutherland hams it up at every chance she gets while still staying true to Lee Cronin’s distinct tone. Her mother demon is easily a new standout favorite from the series and is one of the main reasons to keep revisiting Evil Dead Rise for years to come. Alongside her is an equally formidable Scream Queen in Lily Sullivan’s Beth. The tragic heartbreak of a family literally tearing itself apart from the inside wouldn’t work without the main sister’s killer dynamic. And when it’s time for Beth to step up to the plate with shotgun and chainsaw in hand, Sullivan delivers the goods.
If there’s anything else Lee Cronin is going to make clear with Evil Dead Rise, it’s that he sure loves his split diopter shots. All jokes aside, the effect of splitting the screen with a hazy deep focus is baked into the film’s core cinematography. Cronin and cinematographer David Garbett utilize the technique from start to finish, and although it does create a genuine sense of nausea and fear, it’s perhaps used to the point where it starts to teeter on the line of style over substance. This will surely lead to discourse amongst fans, but you would also be damn lying if you didn’t think it makes for some of the film’s sickest visuals. Even if it is excessive, you can’t help but admire a horror movie that boldly sticks to its guns without hesitation. Cronin evidently went in swinging for the fences, as any Evil Dead director should.
This finally brings us to the few unignorable setbacks of Evil Dead Rise. Whereas Lee Cronin’s more direct script does add some fresh flavor to the franchise, it doesn’t really earn the signature tongue-in-cheek element needed for when our main hero tries to spew an Ash-like oneliner by the end. The fact that mother Ellie is the only deadite with an actual personality does this movie little favor as well. There are some noticeable character traits that are simply left as window dressing, which especially feels like a waste when these same characters get possessed and all that material isn’t used to give the deadites a stronger screen presence. Evil Dead Rise can be greatly appreciated and loved for all the new it brings to the table while honoring Sam Raimi, there’s no denying that. However, it is admittedly just a bit shy from the highs of Evil Dead (2013).
Thankfully, Lee Cronin has more tricks up his sleeves that even dedicated fans of this series won’t see coming. From the beginning, the filmmaker is having the time of his life planting visual cues for what are soon to be some gruesome and extremely memorable kills. Evil Dead Rise gets impressively creative in this aspect as it utilizes its LA apartment setting to the fullest. From elevator wires to ink guns to cheese graters to bugs galore, there’s no shortage of creative gore to be found here. Above all else, the third act of Evil Dead Rise delves into something so twisted and repulsive that it feels ripped from a Dead Space video game, in the best way possible. It’s the kind of third act that signals that this franchise still has plenty of life left… if under the right hands of course.
After the blood-soaked thrill ride of Evil Dead Rise, it would be wrong to have to wait another 10 years to witness more of this franchise’s demented glory. As long as Sam Raimi and fellow producers Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert are involved, Evil Dead will continue to live long and healthy. Now more than ever, there’s a real chance to keep this iconic horror series in the mainstream, if just for a bit longer. Evil Dead Rise, despite some minor hiccups, proves to be a fantastic gateway entry for younger audiences. It’s got all the works and even some visually shocking surprises to boot. To think this Evil Dead movie almost went straight to streaming on HBO Max is a joke. Gather your best friends because the big screen is where something as unashamedly horrid as this belongs.