Evil Dead Rise is the latest entry in the Evil Dead series written and directed by Lee Cronin. The best way to describe Lee Cronin is that he is the kind of director who makes films that critics will like but audiences won’t. The prime example is his previous film, Hole in the Ground which came out in 2019 and did very well at film festival circuits. If you look at the Rotten Tomatoes score, it has 83% from critics but a 47% audience score. I personally think that Lee Cronin is a good choice, especially considering the quality that Hole in the Ground had (supposedly, that was the film that got him the job for Evil Dead Rise). He faces the same problem that all of the filmmakers trying to revive Evil Dead have been facing: how do we make Evil Dead without Bruce Campbell?
Bruce Campbell will never reprise his role as Ash Williams, and I think he’s made that very clear at this point. So without the series’ most iconic character, what do you do? This is one of the reasons why people were very sceptical about the 2013 reboot, which if I’m honest, I thought was okay and had some good ideas – it had a pretty good, modernised reason for why all of the characters were in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and had some interesting themes for the horror genre. It went back to a pure horror film instead of an action-horror hybrid which I think was a good call. I think that the main problem with the 2013 version was that it doesn’t go all-out until the very last minute, and by that point, it felt too little too late.
Evil Dead Rise actually promises a very different movie. It was so surprising that when I first saw a trailer for it I didn’t even realise that it was an Evil Dead movie until the title card appeared!
Unlike the previous movies, this one takes place in a dilapidated high-rise apartment, the location of which isn’t specified (though it’s implied it’s in New York). It centres on a broken family where the father has just left and an aunt has come to visit after being a guitar tech for a band on tour and getting pregnant on said tour. After an earthquake hits, one of the kids (who is an aspiring DJ) discovered a bank vault under the car park and takes a vinyl record and a book out of there, which of course, turns out to be the Necronomicon. The vinyl record, of course, has the chant that releases a bunch of demons into the apartment block and possesses the mother, which puts the whole family in a horrific situation.
That’s a very basic plot summary, but it is a very back-to-basics plot in general for the franchise. The film does a very good job early on establishing the characters and the internal relationships and conflicts, it’s very heavily implied that there is some tension between the two sisters as well as their own relationship with their mother, which again is implied that it wasn’t very healthy which leads to their own internalised fear of motherhood. As a result, we feel a lot more for the characters and that is where much of the thematic terror comes from when it all goes horribly wrong.
Despite the fact that we have a new location, everything about it feels very Evil Dead. Top marks to the props department that designed that version of the Necronomicon – it’s fantastic! The set design is excellent too, they do a great job of making a usually mundane environment look very horrific. They also do a great job of explaining several reasons why it’s not a simple runaway job – in the original, this was because they were in a secluded cabin. This film has to of course jump through a few more hoops, but it definitely sells the desperate situation. It doesn’t just look like an Evil Dead movie, it goes all out like one too. If you are at all squeamish, do not go and see this film! This thing is gore central. I won’t spoil the best uses of it, but let’s just say that there is already talk surrounding a scene with a cheese grater which is a homage to one of the iconic scenes in the original which had it banned for years.
This film actually establishes great characters, so you want to see them come out alive! You have the son who is an aspiring DJ, the daughter who is a political activist, and the little girl who is a pretty typical little girl, but still gets some good scenes. I thought that there were certain aspects of this film where Lee Cronin would not go, but man, does he go there! In terms of giving you a sense of insecurity, it’s very much to the film’s benefit.
Lee Cronin has been very smart because he knows he has to create something that is simultaneously recognisable but distinct, and somehow he has managed to do both very well.
If there is one weakness to this film, it’s the fact that there are many obvious setups to things that will happen later. There was something shown in the car park which instantly made me think: “Yep, someone is going to end up disfigured by that before the end of this movie.”. I will stress again if you don’t like blood, this is not the film for you! This film really earns its 18 certificates.
I heard a lot of people coming out of the cinema saying that they didn’t find the film scary, and I don’t know what to say to them… Yeah, the film isn’t jump scare heavy, but it builds an excellent atmosphere, which is something I feel has been missing from a few of the previous movies, particularly the 2013 reboot. There really aren’t a lot of jump scares, but that is to the film’s benefit, jump scares aren’t scary, they’re startling – there’s a big difference. It’s very hard to make jump scares effective, and I’m glad directors are starting to notice that.
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