A decade ago, then-newcomer Fede Alvarez gave us a mean-spirited, blood-soaked 2013 reboot of Evil Dead. Well, not a total reboot, especially if you stick around until the very end of the movie. The post-credits stinger, that is. It may have been brief but it was undoubtedly something worth looking forward to in the future and more so if you are a fan of the Evil Dead franchise.
Well, that didn’t happen and instead of a follow-up to Alvarez’s reboot, the new Evil Dead movie takes a different route as writer-director Lee Cronin of The Hole in the Ground (2019) fame, introduced a whole new set of characters and even a change of location. The latter moves away from the usual cabin-in-the-woods setting that preceded the first two Sam Raimi films and the 2013 reboot in favour of a bigger location. An apartment building in downtown Los Angeles, to be exact (interestingly enough, the movie was predominantly shot in New Zealand). The change of scenery immediately reminds me of the recent Scream VI (it took place in Manhattan instead of the fictional Woodsboro town) and of course, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan thirty-four years ago.
In Evil Dead Rise, the movie takes place mostly within the large confines of a drab Los Angeles apartment as we follow Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a single mum working as a tattoo artist while struggling to raise her three children — Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Kassie (Nell Fisher) — alone. One night, Ellie’s guitar-technician sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) made a surprise visit following her pregnancy. Their family and sibling matters are the least of the problems here when a subsequent earthquake hits Los Angeles, which in turn, cracks open a hole somewhere in the parking garage.
Long story short, a mysterious book is discovered beneath the hole. A you-know-what book that unleashes an evil force consisting of parasitic demons of Deadites. It’s all hell breaks loose — both literally and figuratively — from the second half of the movie onwards. Evil Dead Rise is more in line with the 1981 original of The Evil Dead minus Sam Raimi’s gonzo and funhouse horror style and the 2013 reboot in terms of its sheer brutality. The gore is as graphically violent as it gets with a dash of European horror sensibility as if Cronin is channelling Alexandre Aja and Pascal Laugier in some parts. He also understands that nothing beats the moviemaking magic of practical effects as gorehounds are in for a bloody treat. Expect lots — and I mean, lots — of (fake) blood, where Cronin reportedly used around 6,500 litres (!) in Evil Dead Rise. We have a character who pukes blood (one of the franchise’s signature gores), a bloodied protagonist (Lily Sullivan’s Beth) and even a homage to one of the iconic scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).
Cronin also has a knack for creative kills and brutal set pieces including the use of weapons (shotgun), power tools (an Evil Dead movie wouldn’t be complete without featuring a chainsaw) and kitchen utensils (that nasty scrape from a cheese grater comes to mind). Fans of Evil Dead franchise can spot several callbacks from the flying eyeball scene to the “dead by dawn!” phrase and even one of Bruce Campbell’s Ash’s famous one-liners. The camerawork may have been less acrobatic when compared to the one seen in Sam Raimi’s iconic original trilogy. But Cronin still has his way for some cool shooting styles, namely how he subverts the franchise’s signature POV shot of an unseen evil force and even includes Brian De Palma’s split diopter and Spike Lee’s double dolly shots.
As for the cast, Alyssa Sutherland’s demented turn as a single mum who ends up being possessed by a Deadite is worth mentioning here. Lily Sullivan delivers an equally solid performance as the estranged Beth. The latter’s pregnancy subplot helps to establish Beth’s subsequent maternal instinct to try and protect her nieces and nephew while facing the deadly ordeal.
As much as I enjoy the gore-fest in Evil Dead Rise, it’s kind of disappointing to see the movie chose to downplay the campy nature of Raimi’s trilogy that made the franchise uniquely different in the first place. It’s not like the new movie is completely devoid of humour since Cronin injects a pitch-black comedy vibe that deals with motherhood revolving around the possessed Ellie and her frightened children. It’s just that the darkly humourous parts are sporadically added into the movie. Not a great Evil Dead movie as I thought but certainly a step above Fede Alvarez’s too-grim-for-its-own-good 2013 reboot.