Editor’s Note: Some mild spoilers in this EVIL DEAD RISE review
Playing as a special screening, EVIL DEAD RISE made SXSW run red…with blood. All the blood. Director Lee Cronin brought high levels of creepiness and abject terror to every aspect of this film. Bone-snapping soundscape, traumatizing gore and practical effects, demonic and skin-crawling make-up, and the cinematography from David Garbett create a writhe-in-your-seat creepy atmosphere. EVIL DEAD RISE continues with the familiar tone of the franchise and brings us a new kind of monster which I can only describe as a ‘blob of family.’ Some theatergoers will find the gore off-putting (and will probably never use a cheese grater again) but fans of any portion of the Evil Dead saga will find themselves cheering for more. And that’s groovy, baby.
The film starts with a point-of-view shot trekking through the forest and as the camera gets closer to an unsuspecting woman quietly reading a book, the music intensifies. Even though this opening shot reveals itself to have a far less sinister purpose, fans of Evil Dead will find amusement in the homage to their beloved franchise. Aside from the ominous camerawork, the film also starts with a memorable setting. Now, a dusty cabin in the woods is never a good location, and pretty soon it becomes clear to everyone that one of the happy campers will soon take a dark turn and the dusty cabin will become a bloody one. The cold opening and the title card crawl for EVIL DEAD RISE brought the house down. Screams of surprise and jubilation roared throughout the theatre and this enthusiastic (yet horrified) din did not settle until the end of the credits. The audience really helped make this movie special and I just want to cut them open, so I can climb inside them and stay one happy family forever.
Unlike all previous installments of the Evil Dead franchise, EVIL DEAD RISE follows a female lead (and a mostly female cast), which just goes to show that when you are in trouble you just need a good girl with a boom stick. The main cast consists of Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) who plays a single mother of three children. She eventually becomes the scariest damn mother you will ever see, but when first introduced, she struggles with accepting her husband left and that he does not plan to ever return. She not only needs to move out of her apartment, but she needs to move on as well. Every part of the apartment holds an item, a photo, or a memory connected to the now-absent husband.
Our second lead is Ellie’s sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) who works as a guitar technician and is always on the road with little available time to dedicate to her sister and her family (let alone start her own family). Both actresses bring a powerhouse performance and absolutely nail every aspect of their roles. Some Evil Dead purists will say “Not without my Ash!” but seeing these women on the big screen will make them some of your new horror favorites.
The lives of Beth and Ellie are tumultuous but still fairly normal in the world of horror. An absentee husband and an unplanned pregnancy make for an uncomfortable time but not the level of horror expected of an Evil Dead installment. So, Cronin threw in an earthquake and now a portentous-looking hole appears in the building’s parking lot just begging for a teenager to explore. Ellie’s oldest son Danny (Morgan Davies) hops into the hole and soon begins uncovering all kinds of secrets. He discovers some old records and decides to steal them assuming something on the albums will provide some good material for sampling. But, these records are not the biggest find. In a back room sits a cracked tomb that would make any other person go “Nope!” but Danny ignores these instincts and pushes through to find none other than the Necronomicon!
Soon, evil once again becomes unleashed and the inhabitants of the 14th floor of the apartment complex must fight and the dead-ites came to fight dirty. Everything is now a weapon: a large shard of glass, an aerosol can, and even a babydoll head on the end of a staff. Nothing makes an audience scream and squirm more than a cheese grater dragged across the skin. Leg-uini, anyone? With all the hand stabbing, eye gouging, and throat slashing, it’s probably best to just sit back and watch the world end through a blood-splattered peephole, but Beth did not come to sit back and ideally watch evil consume everyone around her.
While EVIL DEAD RISE brought quite a few changes to the forty-year-old franchise, there were still a lot of similarities in how the newcomer Cronin handled the well-loved material of the previous films and series. With plenty of nods and winks to the original films, Cronin still creates enough of his own world and monsters to stand strongly beside (but separately) from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.
EVIL DEAD RISE played as a special screening at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Make sure to check the rest of our SXSW coverage here.
EVIL DEAD RISE will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures and is set to open in theaters in North America on April 21, 2023, and internationally beginning April 19, 2023.