If Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is a barb-wired gut punch, then Lee Cronin’s follow up, Evil Dead Rise is a jaw shattering upper cut. While it doesn’t have the same gunkiness that its predecessor has, it refuses to pull its punches, trading on the primal instinct of child endangerment. And much like the previous four films, it has guts. So much guts.
Swapping out a dilapidated cabin in the woods for a dilapidated high rise tower, Evil Dead Rise introduces us to a whole new cohort of victims ready to be engulfed by a foul-mouthed Kandarian demon. Beth (Lily Sullivan) is a guitar tech, seeking the help of her estranged sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland). Ellie, none too pleased to see her oft absent sibling has problems of her own, attempting to raise three kids solo in an apartment complex that’s ready for demolition in the next month. When an earthquake opens up the bowels of the building, revealing a long hidden bank vault containing the skin-bound Necronomicon – the Book of the Dead- eldest child, Danny (Morgan Davies) inadvertently awakens the ancient demon ready to feast on any and every soul it can devour, with Ellie becoming its unwilling host.
The latest instalment of Deadite antics, Evil Dead Rise continues to prove that the franchise has incredible versatility and life pumping through its rancid veins. Given the absolute boon the horror genre has been having as of the last five years, one has to wonder why it’s taken a decade to see another instalment of the beloved series. Director Lee Cronin proves to be an inspired choice as both writer and director. While the film is much closer to Alvarez’s previous iteration, Cronin manages to weave an almost haunted house tonality throughout, and even thread some of the more funnier elements seen in the original trilogy. Where Alvarez kicked the door down with a kinetic brutality, Cronin opts for more emotional heft to carry the scares. By having a mother be the one to unleash Hell, Cronnin adds a welcome new depth. We’re used to the cabin full of young adults being slaughtered, but what if it’s an apartment full of children? The nurturer turned murderer immediately adds on layers of fear and terror, the protector now a vessel of pure evil spouting some of the most vile venom the franchise has become famous for.
As Beth, actress Lily Sullivan becomes part of a growing roster of final girls terrorised by the ancient evil force, bringing with her a much more subtle performance than seen in previous instalments. For a series as outlandish as Evil Dead, Sullivan is far less guttural in her terror, hiding her fear from the sight of the three children. As terrifying and heinous as things get, Beth isn’t easily wobbled by the screaming and gnashing of her possessed sister, immediately opting for fight over flight. It’s a great counterbalance once Ellie goes full blown Kandarian. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if, at the end of each shooting day, Alyssa Sutherland had completely exhausted herself. She is clearly bringing an inhuman level of energy and physicality to the role, revelling in the sheer chaos under layers of ghoulish make up and fake blood for days. But it’s those moments, where she transforms from a force of demonic violence back to a motherly aura, psychotically staring through a peep hole, attempting to coax her youngest to unlock the door so she can continue her rampage that are truly the scariest of all. And it’s in that where Sutherland earns her rightful place as Queen of the Deadites.
There’s a brazenness to having children be the bloody fodder of the film. And all three actors take on their roles with aplomb. It is a bit of a shame considering Nell Fisher, the youngest of the three siblings, may have to wait a number of years before she can see herself fending off demonic forces and near drowning in an elevator full of blood. Children have a natural curiosity about the world around them, and Cronin puts that to good use. When Danny becomes freaked out by the words being spoken from the book, he immediately tries to put an end to it, only for the situation to get away from him, furthering a rift between he and his sister, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols). The play on the kid accidentally breaking something and attempting to put the genie back in the bottle is far more effective than dumb people doing dumb things that get them killed in dumb ways and it’s that extra spice that sets Evil Dead Rise apart from its predecessors.
Cronin, having fun with the tropes and rules Evil Dead has become known for, finds new and inventive avenues to help expand the lore. Dropping the story in a heavily populated area pushes the narrative walls out even further. Ash and Mia are no longer the only foes of the Deadites. Now they’re everyone’s problem, a force of sheer brutality and Cronin makes sure he has enough victims to feed to the threshing machine. Where once the earthen floor of a fruit cellar was the scene of brazen bloodletting, now it’s the long, poorly lit hallways of an urban sprawl, with a peephole acting as the window out to gruesome disembowelment and dismemberment.
Cronin turns in a powerhouse instalment in a franchise that has yet to drop the ball. The continued theme of the garish Book falling into the hands of those hard done by by life continues to be an inspired and interesting direction. And by having each subsequent film act more as an anthology rather than continuation means the franchise remains fresh and juicy, free for new talented storytellers to place their own icky fingerprints all over it for years to come.
You’re not going to be able to look at a cheese grater or pair of scissors in the same way again.