By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
Some movies can be described as “so bad, they’re good.” Others may be better described as “so good, they’re bad.” But rarely, a film may be best captured with the phrase “so scary, it’s funny.” A relentlessly violent and unsettling film that will get under viewer’s skin in more ways than one, Evil Dead Rise is a rare and fitting entry in the “so scary, it’s funny” category.
From visionary writer/director Lee Cronin (who helmed The Hole in the Ground and the acclaimed short film Ghost Train), Evil Dead Rise is the latest installment in the gory, goofy, and groovy horror franchise made famous by director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell, both of whom return as executive producers for this new film. Evil Dead Rise follows estranged sisters Ellie (played by Vikings’ Alyssa Sutherland) and Beth (played by Picnic at Hanging Rock’s Lily Sullivan), whose family’s quaint living in a California apartment is disrupted when a strange book hidden underneath their building unleashes horrific spirits.
Since the release of the original film in 1981, Evil Dead has proven to be one of the most consistent horror franchises in regards to the quality of its various entries, but has been far less consistent tonally. The Evil Dead (1981) is terrifying to its core, whereas Evil Dead II (1987) retraced the steps of its predecessor as a visually stunning comedy of terrors. With the series’ third installment Army of Darkness (1992), the franchise introduced fantasy and time-travel elements in a film that once again adopted a more comedic approach. This was in stark contrast to Fede Álvarez’s Evil Dead remake in 2013, a film that sported the tagline, “The most terrifying film you will ever experience” and was firmly rooted in pure horror.
The series’ fifth installment, Evil Dead Rise, finds itself tonally somewhere in between Evil Dead II and Evil Dead (2013). But, unlike Álvarez’s remake, which leaned heavily into the bleak and disturbing side of the necronomicon at the complete expense of humor, Evil Dead Rise more effectively captures the spirit of the franchise. Cronin’s film is undoubtedly a horror film through-and-through, but there are sequences and imagery so demented that one can’t help but laugh. For instance, a scene involving a possessed character biting an eyeball out of someone’s face and then proceeding to spit the eyeball into another character’s mouth, leading to him choking and dying, is so violently horrific and absurdly grotesque that it’s humorous.
This “so scary, it’s funny” tone continues throughout the duration of Evil Dead Rise. Fans who are buying tickets for the blood, guts, and gore expected with an Evil Dead film will walk away with smiles on their faces and likely some nightmares for the next few weeks. The violence in Evil Dead Rise is easily the series’ best since the iconic Evil Dead II, with some sequences that even rival the novelty of Raimi’s horror classic. Even the most seasoned of horror fans will want to look away at parts of Evil Dead Rise.
One of the key aspects that sets Evil Dead Rise apart from its predecessors is the intelligent decision to relocate the franchise from the woods to the city. The cabin setting of the Evil Dead series has always been eerily atmospheric and horrifyingly isolated, but another Evil Dead film sharing this same setting would’ve likely felt tired and uninspired. Evil Dead Rise retains the contained horror core to the series, yet pivots away from the cabin setting to a spooky and deteriorating apartment building. With director Cronin spearheading, production designer Nick Bassett (Guns Akimbo, Sweet Tooth) and cinematographer Dave Garbett (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Z for Zachariah) craft the perfect setting for a reimagined Evil Dead film. There is an enduring visual darkness fitting to the film’s tone that never overwhelms or obscures viewing of the seemingly endless violence. The geography of the apartment and the hallway outside it are presented clearly and concisely to the audience early on in the film, allowing one to feel as if they are familiar with the location and along for the ride with the family.
Speaking of family, Evil Dead Rise features a crew of central characters unlike anything seen in the franchise to date. Cronin takes calculated time to introduce the audience to the characters and their relationships with one another. Sisters Ellie and Beth are estranged, and Ellie’s husband has recently left her to care for their three kids in a dilapidated apartment. Ellie’s kids are Danny, Bridget, and Kassie, played by Morgan Davies, Gabriella Echils, and Nell Fisher respectively, and are immediately likable and relatable characters to root for. None of the characters fall into predictable horror movie tropes and, instead, come across as genuine, fleshed out individuals.
The star of the show here is Alyssa Sutherland as Ellie. When horrid demons are unleashed in the building, the mother of three children is possessed and attempts to kill her family. Sutherland is fantastic as the mother figure initially, while also playing the demonic presence to perfection. Her line delivery and body language are key to the film’s balance of horror and humor, and make for a genuinely terrifying experience every time she is on screen. Beyond Sutherland, the rest of the cast is serviceable and does everything they can with the somewhat limited material they are given. Once the book is opened and the demons are unleashed, expansive characterization largely takes a backseat in favor of the blood and guts. That being said, Evil Dead Rise uses its motherhood theme for plenty of grisly and hilarious moments.
The sadistic and over-the-top nature of Evil Dead Rise is certainly not for everyone, and there’s an argument to be made that such intense violence is too much, even for seasoned horror fans. There’s some validity in this argument in that Evil Dead Rise can be, perhaps in a reductionistic sense,, seen as an expensive attempt to gross-out audiences with increasingly violent and disturbing imagery. Then again, this may be exactly what one is looking for in buying a ticket for Evil Dead Rise.
Evil Dead Rise recaptures the spirit of Sam Raimi’s original duo with a blood-soaked and unsettling experience that is so scary it’s funny. Absurdly grotesque and disturbing, Lee Cronin’s film intelligently relocates the franchise from the woods to the city, while retaining the contained dread key to the Evil Dead franchise. Alyssa Sutherland excels as the once loving, now demonic mother figure amidst a cast that is overshadowed by the film’s unrelenting violence. With an ending that perfectly sets up future run-ins with the Necronomicon, Evil Dead Rise sure is groovy.
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