Evil Dead Rise (2023)
Director: Lee Cronin
Screenwriters: Lee Cronin
Starring: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher
There will never be a time in history when more Evil Dead content is not wanted. This is one of the rules of nature. Evil Dead is a stalwart of western horror media, influential since its inception. Finally, a decade after the last feature instalment in 2013’s Evil Dead remake (one of the best remakes out there), and six years after the ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’ series came to an end, we’re graced with a fifth film in the form of Evil Dead Rise. Plans for crossovers between Ash Williams (played by Bruce Campbell in the first three films and the TV series) and Mia Allen (from Fede Alvarez’s 2013 film), never came to fruition, and so this film emerges into being from the basement under the franchise cabin. More a second remake, but also a reimagining of the original film’s premise, it finds a family on the verge of being evicted from their apartment stumbling across a vault underneath their high rise building; a vault that contains a familiar tome: one of the three books of the dead. Of course, from the book and vinyl recordings to go with it, evil is unleashed, and we have our ninety minutes of bloody mayhem.
Evil Dead Rise could have been a massive travesty. There has not been a bad instalment of the Evil Dead franchise in any form so far, and what is essentially a second remake could have derailed everything. Thankfully, Rise manages to keep faithful to its predecessors without stepping on toes, offering new characters and their stories whilst opening up the world without being too obvious about it. The script is organic, keeping everything in one building, so it feels reminiscent of films such as Prince of Darkness (1987) and Demons 2 (1986), and it brings back the iconography and feel of the franchise (shotgun, chainsaw, the colour of Ash Williams’ car ‘the Oldsmobile’, over-the-top amounts of blood and guts) without big orchestral hits when they appear on screen, as seen in other franchises. They’re simply there, part of the story, as opposed to being fanservice. Additionally, the tone of the film is much more in the horror zone, as the original film and remake were, rather than Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, which went full horror-comedy. It works, and it’s a tactic lots of franchises try when rebooting themselves (see Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1993) and Curse of Chucky (2013). There are moments of humour, but Evil Dead Rise is written to be lots of blood and guts and scares, and that’s what you get.
Rise features a cast that all perform to their utmost extremes, with special note going to the trio of child actors Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, and Nell Fisher. Fisher, in one of her first roles, is sure to be a name to watch in the future; she pulls off humour, terror and resilience in equal measure throughout. Playing deadites is a hard job, as the line between humour and horror is so fine, especially in this franchise, that the slightest misstep sends it the wrong way. Thankfully, everyone manages to keep it funny when needed, and scary when the time is right.
The directing is tight, never going too fancy but reserving techniques for moments when they’re deserved. A moment that stands out is the use of a split diopter upon encountering the first possessed character in the film. It lends an eerie, surreal quality to it, as if the face of the deadite is floating, out of place. Simply, it works. Cronin, despite having only a dozen directorial credits to his name, made mostly of shorts and TV, knows what he’s doing. It caps off what ends up being a remarkably efficient, gory, new-age reimagining of the story.
The only possible niggle is the opening/ending scene, which isn’t really needed in any way, possibly except to quieten executives asking for opening scares. It doesn’t tie in to the main story, and feels tacked on and pointless. If they’d cut this and reused the screentime to focus our main family of El, Beth, Danny, Bridget, and Kass, there’d be no downsides and only possible upsides.
Despite this, anyone with fears of another franchise film can find themselves rested and assured; Evil Dead Rise has risen from a possible grave, and it is well and truly groovy.
Hail to the king, baby.
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