SXSW 2023 Review: EVIL DEAD RISE, A Gloriously Blood Soaked New Direction For An Old Fave
Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise confidently tackles the beloved franchise with new vigor and violence, opening up a world of possibilities for one of horror’s most cherished franchises. Much like Raimi’s third entry in the original series, Army of Darkness, the latest film boldly leaves the cabin in the woods to place the action in an urban apartment building in Los Angeles. This time, however, he not only leaves the setting, but also the legacy characters behind, positing a world in which the fabled Necronomicon can get to anyone, not just Ash.
Following a reverent – and giddily bloody – prologue in which a cabin in the woods makes a brief appearance as tribute, Evil Dead Rise moves quickly into the life of Beth (Lily Sullivan, Amazon Prime’s Picnic at Hanging Rock), a badass guitar tech with big dreams about to get waylaid by a small problem. Seeking comfort, she surprises her big sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland, Vikings) and her family at their LA apartment, only to find that she’s not the only one with problems. Ellie’s husband has she and her three kids are getting kicked out of their soon-to-be-demolished home in a month.
While Ellie has sent out her three kids, Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and the little one, Kassie (Nell Fisher), to grab pizza to she can explain her dire circumstances to her sister, an earthquake hits. Terrifying enough on its own, unfortunately this also uncovers a hidden bank vault that had hoped to be the final resting place of the Book of the Dead, but Danny recovers in and takes it back to his bedroom. He opens the book, the words are said, and I think you know what happens next.
From here on out, things move very quickly, the first to fall pretty to the demon is Ellie, and if you think you hated your mom when you were a teenager, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Evil Dead Rise goes for the gusto in a blisteringly paced gorefest that takes the intensity of the 2013 remake and marries it with the gonzo dark humor of Evil Dead II in a way that it sure to delight fans who aren’t afraid to let go of Ash. It’s mean, funny, quick witted, and not afraid to make you care about characters that it’s going to do terrible, terrible things to. No sacred cows here, everyone is a target, and the jeopardy is real.
Though this entry plays a little last and loose with the mythology regarding the provenance of the Necronomicon, it stays true to the rules for the most part. With a film like this it’s a risk to leave the existing milieu in which the series has existed, but Cronin’s film understands the tone and perhaps most importantly the level to which he has to pitch the action in order to make this feel like a real Evil Dead movie, and he definitely nails it.
Sullivan and Sutherland work perfectly as dueling leads, the former a hardcore badass desperate to save her family, the latter a vicious demon eager to swallow their souls. What I was not expecting was the amazing performances of the younger members of the cast, who are tasked with roles that require them to deliver a wide range of emotions and action. Everyone here is a target and potentially a deadite, and I was genuinely surprised at how hard the movie goes when it comes to the children. It is rare to be shocked in mainstream horror these days, but Evil Dead Rise does the job, and I couldn’t help a sinister smile creeping across my face every time it did.
Among the film’s many successes is a wealth of gloriously gross gore gags. The Evil Dead series is revered for its inventiveness, initially crafted out of necessity, over the years these gags have gotten more and more elaborate and gross. While I don’t know that this one necessarily tops the best of the remake’s gags in terms of shock value, I feel like it definitely outpaces it in volume. No spoilers here, but you’ll never look at a cheese grater or a broom handle the same way again. We’re talking Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive levels of blood. By the end of the film, everyone is absolutely coated, and with good reason, every single gag and scare lands, I can’t even say that I want more, because as bloodthirsty as I am, even I felt sated, and that doesn’t even begin to tackle the final reel creature that the filmmakers call “the marauder”. That one’s a doozy.
As rightfully concerned as the film is with delivering eye-watering gore, Cronin’s script doesn’t skimp on the characters. Though the film is only 96 minutes, and it feels like 95 and a half of those are filled with gore, we still get to know our characters well enough that when these awful things happen, we care. The stakes are high, and Cronin knows this and uses it to his advantage to deliver maximum emotional impact with minimal dialogue and without slowing the film down. It is an impressive tightrope walk that many films don’t manage, but Cronin not only makes it to the other side, but does one-footed flips all the way there.
Both recognizably bound by the rules and expectations of the Evil Dead universe and deadly determined to blaze a new trail, Evil Dead Rise is exactly the film that this franchise needed. Unrelentingly gory and vicious, blackly hilarious, and not here to fuck around, the latest entry shows clearly that these films can go places that no one ever imagined, beyond the shackles of the past and into a brave new world of deadite mayhem. We used to be safe if we just stayed out of the woods, but Evil Dead Rise brings the demon into our homes, and I’m here for it.
Evil Dead Rise
- Lee Cronin
- Lee Cronin
- Sam Raimi
- Alyssa Sutherland
- Lily Sullivan
- Morgan Davies