Written by: Adam Vaughn | April 20th, 2023
Evil Dead Rise (Lee Cronin, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Director Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) keeps the Evil Dead franchise on its feet with the newest installment, Evil Dead Rise. He aims to revamp the series, originally conceived by Sam Raimi (Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), by giving the story of the Book of the Dead a new twist, introducing a wide variety of new characters and an urban setting. While the new film delivers thrilling scares and graphic-murder techniques, Evil Dead Rise adds very little in fresh, mind-provoking content, and merely brings the viewer its darkest desires in conventional demonic-possession fashion.
The story begins in a near-condemned apartment complex. Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland, The Mental State), while providing for her three kids—Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies) and Kassie (Nell Fisher)—is visited by her rock-band touring sister Beth (Lily Sullivan, I Met a Girl). When the kids are caught in the parking garage during an earthquake, they soon discover a hidden vault underneath the lot, revealing the accursed Book of the Dead hidden away. One thing leads to another, and inevitably the Book of the Dead is read out loud and all hell breaks loose. Trapped on their apartment floor with no escape, Beth must defend the kids, and her own life, from a now possessed Ellie, and the carnage that follows.
Evil Dead Rise includes a few nuances that helps the film stand out from the franchise, one of which includes an impressively diverse cast of characters. Almost every age range possible is covered between the main ensemble (Ellie, Beth, the kids) and the various neighbors and supporting characters involved in the story. The film’s exposition takes its time explaining Ellie as a single mother whose ex-husband ran out, and Beth as a traveling band member expecting a child, which creates a powerful theme of maternity from the start, and calls for bizarre and horrific sequences further down the line. The film’s location is also a clever tactic, replacing the usual worn-out cabin-in-the-woods motif with the sense of isolation found in a condemned-building complex.
However, beyond a fresh new set of characters and location, Evil Dead Rise never takes the leap to truly bring the franchise to new heights. Poor plot points and loosely written character choices lead to conventional outcomes, and the initially subtle murder weapons become lame coincidences in place simply to bring on the guts and gore. Starting from a satisfying setup, the film soon turns to overused horror clichés to lead the audience along.
While having a trite story never fully ruins the experience, Evil Dead Rise is going through the motions to rely heavily on spectacle and practical effects. By the time one reaches the final showdown—introducing a fun, unique, and powerful demon—one feels as if there is more left to be desired, as well as a looming sense of laziness in the second half. The newest Evil Dead may not turn out to be the strongest of the franchise’s installments, but it at least gives the series a new perspective and aesthetic as it sends you down the all-too-familiar path of demonic possession and slaughter.