REVIEW: Evil Dead Rise (2023)

Alyssa Sutherland’s Ellie in Deadite-form in EVIL DEAD RISE — PHOTO: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Directed by Lee Cronin — Screenplay by Lee Cronin.

Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead is one of my favorite horror franchises out there. I grew up watching Army of Darkness over and over again. This is a storied franchise capable of going both extremely gory and very zany. Yet in spite of the film series having been rebooted in 2013 by Fede Alvarez, it took another ten years for another Evil Dead film to come out (the franchise did continue as a relatively short-lived television series, though). Now, 30 years after the theatrical release of Army of Darkness and 10 years after the theatrical release of Alvarez’s Evil Dead, Irish writer-director Lee Cronin has been chosen to bring the deadites and the Book of the Dead into this decade, and he has done a brilliant job. Evil Dead Rise is a terrific continuation of the cult favorite franchise. Yes, it is indeed groovy. 

Though it was shot in New Zealand, Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise takes place in a rickety apartment building in Los Angeles. Here single mother Ellie (played by Alyssa Sutherland) lives with her three children Bridget, Danny, and Kassie (played by Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, and Nell Fisher respectively). One night, Ellie’s sister Beth (played by Lily Sullivan), a guitar technician who just found out that she is pregnant, visits them to catch up and give gifts from the tour that Beth has been on. While the kids take the family car to get pizzas and soda, an earthquake hits and shocks everyone. The earthquake also creates a hole in the ground of the apartment complex’s parking lot, which Danny decides to investigate. Inside it, the DJ-enthusiast finds three vinyl records and a mysterious book all of which Danny takes with him to their apartment to inspect. When Danny opens the book and plays the vinyl records, an ancient evil is awakened and soon it has taken hold of the matriarch of the family who begins to unleash hell on them and their neighbors. 

Evil Dead Rise is the fifth film in the franchise which has been known to be quite flexible tonally. A choice must be made tonally whether to go with the slapstick horror-comedy stylings of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness or to go more for straight horror like Fede Alvarez’s 2013 reboot. Of course, you can also try your hand with a balancing act. Evil Dead Rise is hellish horror first and foremost, but elements of dark comedy do shine through more than they did in the absolutely brutal 2013 film (in Rise, there are a couple of glimpses into more Raimi-esque stylings with the scene that includes a spat-out eye being the most obvious one). Writer-director Lee Cronin is a relative newcomer when it comes to feature filmmaking. Evil Dead Rise is only the Irish filmmaker’s second feature-length film after his much quieter and more deliberately paced 2019 horror flick The Hole in Ground (having recently watched it, I can say that it is a decent and undeniably promising debut, but it is so far from the intensity of gloriously unhinged bloodbath in Cronin’s sophomore effort), but Cronin does a terrific job. It is not quite as visually dynamic as Sam Raimi’s work, but Cronin shows glimpses of strong style, including a series of rather effective split diopter shots. 

Though the essence of the Evil Dead formula is still the same (i.e. the book of the dead and horrific deadites), Cronin’s story does freshen up the franchise, which, except for in Army of Darkness, is a ‘cabin in the woods’ kind of film series. Most significantly, Cronin has changed the character dynamics and the setting to a rather positive effect. Instead of a cabin, the demons run amok in an urban and soon-to-be-dilapidated apartment complex which means that all sorts of characters can pop up to be taken apart, and since the plot is centered around a single mother, her kids, and her sibling, the familial responsibility adds quite a bit of emotional strain to the demonic urban nightmare. To add to this, I was really impressed by the decision to also make this a film about not just motherhood but also a quite terrifying film about having an unplanned ‘bun in the oven,’ so to speak. Cronin also has sequences that appear to reference everything from The Shining and Aliens to The Thing (I even thought there was a little bit from The Last of Us: Part II in this one).

Cronin famously claimed that the film used over 6,500 liters of fake blood. Evil Dead Rise is a real bloodbath that will make you want to go home to take a shower the moment it ends. But it isn’t just splatter-effects in place of tension and horror, Cronin’s sophomore effort is a true horror film that makes you look away due to fear or get closer to the edge of your seat due to how wild it all is. There are some really horrifying notable sequences that will make you squirm in your seat such as the extended peephole scene (which is extremely dark, but which could also go extremely slapstick if it were sped up slightly and if it had Benny Hill music playing over it), the cheese grater moment, and the elevator. The fake blood serves a purpose, and it helps to really sell how grueling it all is for our protagonist. Alyssa Sutherland – who plays the film’s chief deadite — delivers a terrifying physical performance (the way she walks back inside her apartment!) partly brought to life by skin-crawlingly creepy make-up. And then the film is also enhanced by effective sound design. 

It isn’t perfect. Maybe the Aussie accents slip once or twice, though that never bothered me (I thought the principal cast was terrific), the main characters are relatively thinly drawn, the film has been cut to be so lean that it feels like one or two scenes are maybe missing, I would’ve liked a little bit more comedy, perhaps it could be even more original, and the morning after scene at the very end of the film doesn’t hit as hard as the rest of the movie does. But most of these are nitpicks, and none of these minor issues get in the way of the blood-soaked spectacle. 

Evil Dead Rise, Lee Cronin’s second feature-length film as a director, is a crowd-pleasing and worthy continuation of the Evil Dead film series. It is a wicked and intense horror film that doubles as a bloody entertaining pregnancy scare nightmare. Horror movie aficionados with a bloodlust should be more than satisfied by this wild ride that also ought to kickstart sequels. 

8 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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