Sam Raimi exploded onto the indie filmmaking scene back in the 80s with his horror classic The Evil Dead. While a largely straight-forward demonic possession horror film, the slight hints of humor and Bruce Campbell‘s performance, alongside Raimi’s sure directorial touch, elevated it into something greater. It spawned sequel entries more ready to revel in the humorous aspects, creating a beloved franchise. Years passed until the 2013 rebootquel, Evil Dead, which came before rebootquels became all the rage. A darker take than any of the original films, it did well and seemed poised to renew the franchise. Then years passed without anything until the Ash v. Evil Dead show came into being, seeming to take the place of any sequel film.
But no franchise stays dead forever (certainly not one about Deadites) and Raimi handed the reigns over to a new director, Lee Cronin. The Irish filmmaker impressed Raimi with his 2019 flick The Hole in the Ground. While its status in the franchise is even more unclear than the 2013 film, it hardly matters as Evil Dead Rise shows there is plenty of gas left in the tank for the evils of the Book of the Dead.
Aside from an intro sequence paying homage to the original film, Evil Dead Rise rejects the typical cabin setting for a fairly different one: a ramshackle apartment complex in Los Angeles. The film revolves around a single mother and her three children, as well as her sister who appears on the scene as a younger, wayward mess-up. The Book of the Dead is discovered following an earthquake, and, sure enough, evil is unleashed from it. Written as a blend of modern and classic horror, Evil Dead Rise is a welcome update on the franchise formula, even if it is still a tad familiar.
Evil Dead Rises is notably gory for a mainstream horror film, featuring several scenes that will make even a grizzled horror veteran wince a tad. Cronin knows what makes audiences grimace and how to make them uncomfortable, and he touches those pressure points well. One maybe wishes he went more for tension and dread over gore, but mileage does vary on that point for horror fans. That said, Cronin’s few scenes where he does try to build tension are excellently done, including a mini jump-scare late in the film that’s quite effective. The overall setting of trapping the characters in a dirty apartment after a quake is a neat bottle film tactic and a fun way to transition into an urban horror franchise.
Cronin also showcases his knowledge of the genre with some fun, surprising, and subtle horror references throughout. He pays homage to Raimi’s iconic quick zoom shot, as well as visual cues from Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, and this franchise’s iconic chainsaw. The film’s thematic focus on motherhood can also be seen as a tribute to Rosemary’s Baby. Despite this bevy of famous films, the allusions are done in a subtle enough manner that they don’t feel obnoxious, and instead reward an intimate knowledge of some of horror’s more famous moments.
While this iteration aims for a darker take a la the 2013 film, it does use subtle humor in line with the original The Evil Dead. These moments add that perfect touch to make it in line with the franchise while still feeling like it offers its own take on the material. A lot of this can be attributed to the fantastic performance from Alyssa Sutherland. She gives a tour de force as both the mother of her children and later as she is possessed (not a spoiler, as its in the trailer). She is unnerving and funny and gets your empathy all at once.
Evil Dead Rise‘s attempts at thematic depth are uneven at best. The ending opens doors on questions that ruin the bottle nature of the film, and for an unnecessary purpose. All the same, this film proves that the franchise has one of horror’s best batting averages. It’s not been flooded with sequels, and when it comes back it’s usually in the hands of a talented, competent director. If anything, this is the rise of Lee Cronin, which is welcome.