SXSW 2023: ‘Evil Dead Rise’ Review
The following is part of our coverage of SXSW 2023. For more, click here.
Evil Dead is the rare franchise to maintain its integrity over the years. From the humble beginnings of 1981’s The Evil Dead to the loftier sequels Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, leading to the very well-received 2013 semi-reboot simply titled Evil Dead, the team of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert G. Tapert have made it a point to maintain a consistent level of quality across the board. It’s a relief to say that the new reboot of sorts Evil Dead Rise, spearheaded by writer-director Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground), affirms that standard. Set in a high-rise apartment, Evil Dead Rise delivers a new spin on the iconic franchise that brings the requisite amount of carnage. Despite some questionable decisions, the return of the Book of the Dead is sure to draw in new audiences.
Tattoo artist Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) struggles to keep her family together. Facing the incoming demolition of the building she lives in with her children Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and Kassie (Nell Fisher), the last thing she needs is her guitar technician sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) showing up on her doorstep. As the two estranged sisters try to reconnect, an earthquake rocks the area, revealing a basement containing one of the three volumes of the Naturom Demonto, aka the “Book of the Dead”. One can guess where this is going. A passage indirectly recited from this book causes one of its dark spirits to infect Ellie. This kicks off a blood-soaked extravaganza that doesn’t stop until the end credits (and many heads) roll.
The opening sequence of Evil Dead Rise buys it a lot of goodwill. The cabin-set cold open will immediately strike a chord of recognition amongst franchise fans. In record time, the sequence explodes into violence, punctuated by a brutal scalping and culminating in a character rising from a lake. It’s almost like a grand announcement of Lee Cronin as a horror force to reckon with. When we switch over to the main plot, the proceedings get a bit murky. From the jump, Sutherland is fantastic as a hard-working mom and a dread hangs over everyone as to what happens to her.
Her kids all do a fine job, although their characters are nothing more than basic archetypes. The activist, the aspiring DJ, the youngest, yadda yadda yadda. Despite a valiant effort by Lily Sullivan, Beth doesn’t initially connect. Her constant smirk, complimented by a pervasive snark, fails to leave much of a connection in the way that the iconic Ash Williams from the original trilogy, and TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead, or Mia Allen from the 2013 film. Once the pages from the cursed tome are read, though, then Evil Dead Rise really starts to get “groovy” with it.
Once she turns into her full possessed, or “deadite”, form, Sutherland is a force to be reckoned with. Ellie is the mother from Hell, toying with her kids’ emotions and bringing all manner of destruction in her wake. Cronin unleashes his directorial powers here, letting the split diopter shots via cinematographer Dave Garbett capture the degradation of Ellie and the horror of her family. While the theme of a family doesn’t quite have the impact it’s meant to, the blood overfloweth. An ingenious shot through a peephole that captures Ellie laying waste to residents is an instant franchise highlight. And most importantly, no one is safe. Yes, that includes the kids.
What the film lacks in unique portrayal of the Deadites, who strike an uneven balance between the white-eyed Hellions of the Raimi films and the perverse sadism of the 2013 film, it makes up for in the total bloodbath on display. It feels like a return to the more playful elements of Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, where the audience is the eager observer cheering on the “spook-a-blast” (a term coined by Raimi for Drag Me to Hell) unfolding. No one will come out unsatisfied by a swooping camera move that follows an eyeball popping out of a head. Or the obligatory blood spewing out onto a character’s face in an endless stream!
Cronin has the juice to bring forth an authentic Evil Dead experience. That much is clear from a salaciously unhinged parking garage set piece towards the end. While a lot of the references to prior movies don’t quite land the way they’re intended to, and a scene referencing The Shining feels a bit out of place, it’s hard to imagine audiences not smiling at the full transformation of Lily Sullivan into Scream Queen chainsaw-wielding badass. Moreover, there are genuine attempts to unify the lore throughout all the franchise that will bring a smile to the face of any discerning fan (I was the first officially to catch a sneaky cameo by Bruce Campbell, which I will discuss more thoroughly at a later date).
If Evil Dead Rise doesn’t quite top what came before, it’s an affirmation of the enduring appeal of the brand. This fresh entry into a consistently fresh horror mainstay tips the hat to the devoted faithful without turning off newcomers. There’s a strong chance that this will be the first exposure many get to the Deadites. In that regard, it’s sensational in its own right. But if it draws new eyes to some of the greatest horror films ever made? Even better. – James Preston Poole
Evil Dead Rise release nationwide April 21, 2023.
Did you like this article? If so, consider visiting our YouTube channel, where we discuss the latest and greatest in pop culture news.