Evil Dead Rise (2023)
"Evil Dead Rise" stars Alyssa Sutherland, Lily Sullivan, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, and Nell Fisher. Released on April 21, 2023, the film has two sisters encountering flesh-possessing demons in an apartment.
The film is written and directed by Lee Cronin, who also directed "The Hole in the Ground". He also directed the short films "Wilbur & Anto", "Through the Night", "Billy & Chuck", and "Ghost Train". It is the fifth installment in the "Evil Dead" franchise. A mother's love is strong enough to protect us from any harm. But that isn't the case when you have a bunch of ruthless demons set loose in your apartment. "The Evil Dead" set a new standard for the horror genre regarding its nightmarish premise and over-the-top graphic violence. It not only launched the careers of Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert, and Bruce Campbell, but its cult status spawned a media franchise that is just as successful, including the two direct sequels, a soft reboot/continuation in 2013, and a follow-up television series, "Ash vs Evil Dead". Five years after "Ash vs Evil Dead" concluded, the ferocious demons from Ash's nightmares return to unleash their gory terror on a new set of characters. Unfortunately, the chainsaw-wielding icon won't be around to save them from their gruesome fates, similar to what happened in 2013's "Evil Dead". With a fresh cast and a new location, does it offer enough carnage and supernatural chaos to refresh the iconic horror franchise? Let's find out.
The story follows Beth (Sullivan), a worker in the music industry. She visits her older sister Ellie (Sutherland), a single mother raising her three children, Danny (Davies), Bridget (Echols), and Kassie (Fisher), in a Los Angeles apartment. During the visit, the kids discover a mysterious book underneath the building. Little do they know that the book is actually the Book of the Dead, which houses a bunch of wicked demons with a thirst for death. When Danny unintentionally unleashes them upon the world, the vicious deranged monsters take possession of Ellie, transforming her into something inhuman. As a result, the sibling reunion quickly turns into a bloody battle for survival, as Beth fights to protect herself and the kids from suffering the same fate as Ellie.
I didn't get into the "Evil Dead" franchise until I was old enough to drink, mainly because I heard horror stories about how gross and frightening it is. I don't remember exactly when, but I think it was around the time the 2013 reboot was released that I started checking the previous movies out. Unsurprisingly, the "Evil Dead" films are just as gross and ultra-violent as I thought they would be. However, the more I thought about them, the more I appreciated them for their fun humor, scares, and convincing practical effects. Plus, Bruce Campbell is undeniably entertaining as the iconic Ash Williams. I also remember liking the 2013 soft reboot despite being more grisly than humorous, and even the "Ash vs Evil Dead" series. So there's no doubt I was down for another round of demon madness with its latest installment, which was initially planned for an HBO Max release before switching to a theatrical-only release. I'm happy they made this decision because the film is another worthy experience to witness on the big screen with an audience. Of course, it also helps that "Evil Dead Rise" is another fulfilling entry in the classic splatter horror franchise.
"Evil Dead Rise" faces a similar situation that 2013's "Evil Dead" encountered a decade ago. The obvious reason is the absence of Bruce Campbell's Ash Williams, although he did make a tiny appearance in the 2013 film's post-credit scene. While Campbell is involved in the movie as an executive producer and appears in a cameo, the one-armed, chainsaw-wielding destroyer of darkness is nowhere to be found in "Rise". Ash is one of the crucial parts that made "The Evil Dead" a horror classic, so it was interesting to see if the film could survive without the character like 2013's "Evil Dead" did. The other reason is that the film has a much darker tone than Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" sequels, including "Army of Darkness", which relied more on dark comedy than horror. It further asks the question of whether the brand can still be frightening and diverting without its kooky comedy. After watching "Rise", I will gladly answer that question with a "yes".
The movie is my first introduction to filmmaker Lee Cronin, who came off his successful directorial debut, "The Hole in the Ground", in 2019. Based on the word of mouth that the movie's gotten, I had a feeling that Cronin might be a good choice to carry this legacy on his shoulders, and I was right. Cronin matches the grim and nightmarish tone from the previous "Evil Dead" movies, which balances well with its subtle uses of dark comedy. Additionally, he provided a solid amount of graphic violence and gore that's realistically grotesque and over-the-top without relying heavily on the latter. There's nothing wrong with being excessive with the violence, especially if it's a film like "Evil Dead", but if it doesn't mesh well with its given tone, it will wind up being more laughably dumb than frightening. Thankfully, Cronin managed to make the brutalities and the other messed-up stuff delightfully creepy but also satisfyingly entertaining, all in a respectable 97 minutes.
Regarding the impressive direction, Cronin did a great job paying tribute to Sam Raimi's horror franchise through its scares, cinematography, production design, and sound mixing. But, of course, having it set in a modern-day apartment instead of a cabin in the woods gave the movie's narrative a refreshing flavor despite being a tad familiar with other supernatural films. More importantly, it features a family worth caring about instead of another regular group of teenagers stranded in the woods. We see Beth on a struggling journey toward motherhood when she gets pregnant. However, she wound up being forced to take that responsibility as a mother to protect her sister's children when Ellie got possessed by the demons. Cronin's screenplay may not have handled its theme of motherhood perfectly, but it was convincing enough to inject a small piece of the human soul into its dark, grim, and revolting core.
These characters were brought to life through the film's cast. Lily Sullivan delivered a solid performance as Beth, but it was Alyssa Sutherland who stole the show as Ellie. Sutherland was suitably engaging as a normal single mother raising her three kids. However, once Ellie falls victim to the demons, Sutherland goes all out with the character's creepiness and unhinged nature, and it is quite a terrifying treat to witness. The young actors portraying Ellie's kids were also decent regarding their performances, including Morgan Davies as Danny. Nell Fisher makes her film debut as Kassie, the family's youngest member, and I thought she did pretty well. Hopefully, she didn't get a lot of nightmares from her experience making the film.
The amount of violence and disturbing content benefitted from its use of practical effects and makeup. The "Evil Dead" films have been known for providing visuals (and tons of blood) that capture the illusion of their unsettling deaths and violence without relying heavily on CGI. Part of what makes "Evil Dead" scary, but also occasionally silly, is how it uses these practical effects to make audiences believe they're seeing people actually getting brutalized. "Rise" continues this tradition with pride, as it uses those tools wisely to successfully resemble its icky kills and the people infected by the demons. I will also credit Cronin's collaborator, Stephen McKeon, for his haunting musical score for matching the somber tone of the previous installments.
Overall, "Evil Dead Rise" revives the iconic horror franchise with a rewarding and consistently wild installment that a demon-possessed mother would be proud of. It caters to long-time fans of the blood-filled film series with a short and straightforward narrative and its entertaining mixture of hard-R violence, a nightmarish atmosphere, and subtle humor. Not only that, but it also provides enough refreshing elements to inject new life into the brand fit for fans and newcomers. While its storytelling may not impress everyone looking for some deep metaphoric meaning and profound emotion amid its horror elements, the movie will surely please those searching for a fun, R-rated splatter-fest while their kids have their own fun watching Mario. With its solid cast, direction, effective frights, and superb visuals, the film is groovy enough to keep the franchise going and provides a brighter future for Lee Cronin as a horror filmmaker.
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