Hilarious, harrowing, and deliciously demented, “Evil Dead Rise” flawlessly reinvigorates the franchise with an unbridled glee for gore.
One of the absolute highlights of SXSW 2023, in a week of wall-to-wall joy-inducing madness, was watching the premiere of Evil Dead Rise with a rabid genre-loving audience. We gleefully lapped up every excessively bloody, outrageously gory, and spectacularly unhinged moment.
It’s official, I thought as the end credits rolled and the theater abrupted in thunderous applause; Evil Dead is back in all its gruesome glory, and writer-director Lee Cronin has a certifiable horror hit on his hands.
Like kids in a candy store, we were all just so damn excited to be there (save for one ridiculous post-screening Q&A heckler who was handily dealt with by the one and only Bruce Campbell, proving he’s not just an onscreen badass).
We weren’t the only ones.
The passion, enthusiasm, and genuine, unadulterated love for the franchise from Cronin was palpable, and it’s that beating heart of true devotion that makes Evil Dead Rise such a joyful experience, as well as a wildly thrilling ride.
It’s no easy task taking the helm of such a beloved franchise, one of the few iconic horror properties that have been consistently excellent — from the moment Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell first unleashed holy hell on an unsuspecting world back in 1981.
The franchise began as a truly terrifying, delightfully depraved gorefest before embracing glorious camp and hilarity and then circling back to its gnarly, rapacious roots with the Evil Dead reboot in 2013.
Cronin does something pretty special with his vision of deadite terror, skillfully walking the line between fun and ferocity.
It’s the kind of grisly but oh-so-groovy orchestra that’s exceedingly difficult to conduct.
But Cronin steps up to that podium, raises his baton, and creates a staggering kind of harmonious fusion that evokes the maestro Raimi at his best.
Not only does Cronin nail Raimi’s flair for theatrics and buckets of blood, but he also honors his signature visual style with some wicked tracking shots through the forest and cameras that snake, spiral, and whizz through the air, which have become hallmarks of the franchise.
The camera work as a whole is mighty impressive, with plenty of dazzling Dutch angles, wide shots, and extreme close-ups.
It begins with an outstanding cold open that pays loving homage to the franchise. It gives us that comfortable return to cabin carnage before reinventing the series by transporting us to a Los Angeles high-rise apartment for a new breed of terror.
We end up at the dilapidated apartment by way of guitar tech Beth (Lily Sullivan), whose life felt like it was spiraling out of control even before she found out she was pregnant.
Desperate and scared, she goes to see her somewhat estranged older sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a tattoo artist and mother to three kids: the oldest son, aspiring DJ Danny (Morgan Davies); the middle child, rebellious Bridget (Gabrielle Echols); and the youngest, the precocious Kassie (Nell Fisher).
Ellie’s husband has recently taken off, leaving her a stressed single mom. So, the arrival of her flaky kid sister isn’t exactly met with open arms.
Despite their struggles, the family is close-knit and loving, making what happens next all the more horrifying.
As the sisters try to reconnect, the kids are sent out for pizza.
But as they’re returning, a massive earthquake hits and opens up a hole in the ground of the building’s parking garage.
Danny sees some old vinyl records that he snags and, as he explores further, a very strange-looking book. He grabs it as well, despite pleas from his sister Bridget to leave the creepy artifacts where he found them.
When he gets back home, he quickly gets to exploring his treasures, throwing the vinyl — which turns out to be odd recordings of people chanting — on the turntable and prying open the skin and teeth-covered Book of the Dead.
Obviously, it’s an exceedingly bad idea.
Of course, he unleashes a demon that immediately kills Ellie in a horrific way involving elevator wires that creatively invoke the memory of those monstrous tree branches from Raimi’s brutal vision.
But before the kids can mourn the loss of their loving mom, she resurrects and transforms into something sinister, ghoulish, maniacal, and bloodthirsty.
One thing the genre is sorely lacking is memorable, nightmare-inducing female villains, and Sutherland is just the evil queen we need to Rise and deliver.
The demon-possessed matriarch is played with menacing zeal and nastiness as she terrorizes her own family with gusto.
Sutherland seems to relish every moment of the savage villainy with a side of twisted black humor her character calls for, devouring scenery and delighting at every demented turn.
She’s far and away the most captivating and unnerving part of a film that throws no shortage of creative kitchen sink carnage with a smorgasbord of splatter at the audience.
The formidable foe to Sutherland’s dreadful deadite is Beth, the somewhat Ash-coded f*ck-up turned fierce warrior with the heart of a hero. It’s an equally powerful performance from Sullivan, who delivers emotional gravitas while effortlessly evolving into a shotgun-wielding, demon-desolating, blood-soaked badass when necessary.In a franchise departure, EVIL DEAD RISE is a beast of a film that's almost entirely driven by women, and it’s absolutely glorious. Click To Tweet
That includes a standout performance from the young Fisher, who is extraordinary and impossible not to love. Her iconic “Staffanie” — a makeshift doll-head staff — is hilarious and endearing, a real fan favorite.
Though this film is far more focused on explosive action and visceral practical effects than character-driven drama, Cronin still manages to create characters worth rooting for without ever taking his foot off the pedal of this nonstop, unstaunched rollercoaster ride.
It’s a rather cruel trick giving us a cast of likable innocents and putting them all in perilous danger, with total disregard for the standard horror movie rules that suggest kids should remain safe from the brutality.
Cronin doesn’t give a damn about boundaries.
Draw a line, and he exuberantly crosses it, unapologetic about how much he shocks or scars the unsuspecting audience.
And I mean that, of course, as the highest of compliments. It’s the kind of fearless, no-holds-barred filmmaking that makes genre fans giddy. Cronin goes hard, sparing no sacred cows and pulling no punches.
EVIL DEAD RISE is a relentless gorefest with stunning practical effects and an unholy amount of blood.
Cronin makes masterful use of his location, turning everyday objects into shiver-inducing weapons, like the already infamous cheese grater. The carnage is plentiful and potent, with enough jaw-dropping havoc to please the most gluttonous connoisseur of gore.
There’s also just enough playful fan service, including the obligatory chainsaw, to make franchise fans feel warm and fuzzy.
The final act is indescribable and unforgettable.
Cronin knows how to hit the accelerator with fury, careening into madness while still somehow keeping the bullet train on the rails.
You’ve heard me say it many times before. But please, for the love of horror, see this spectacular splatterfest in the theater if you can.
Enjoy it on the biggest screen possible, with immersive surround sound and an enthralled audience. Sharing every single gasp, scream, giggle, whoop, and holler with others will only heighten your enjoyment and ensure you get maximum kicks from this killer flick.
It’s a film that more than satiates the hunger for the familiar beats of a revered cult franchise, respecting its gnarled roots and honoring a notable legacy while rising above expectations — subverting the all-too-familiar to create something fresh, innovative, and wholly original.