‘Evil Dead Rise’ – Review

Evil Dead Rise delivers on the gore and is an entertaining experience that will please fans of the brutal aspects of the franchise. The film is, however, about motherhood (written and directed by a man) extraordinarily cruel towards its female characters. While the franchise has always been punishing towards women, this feels exceptionally merciless. 

As a fan of the Evil Dead franchise, another installment is always welcomed, especially after the surprisingly well-done 2013 remake. The latest installment, Evil Dead Rise, has a new location, cast, and director, and from the trailer alone appears to be a fresh take on the franchise. Lee Cronin, the writer-director, brings back what the 2013 installment was lacking, black comedy, but takes the violence against women a step further. The franchise has always had a problem with women, but the new focus on a new family of mostly women feels a bit more intense with its targeted violence that comes across as quite vicious. 

Evil Dead Rise begins with the iconic tracking shot at a familiar remote cabin before we go back to one day earlier. We see an anxious Beth (Lily Sullivan) taking a pregnancy test in a gritty nightclub before she’s disturbed by knocking. While we never see what the test results are, we can guess when Beth shows up at the door of her older sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), who lives with her three children in their very cramped Los Angeles apartment. Ellie’s children are given quite the personalities to find comfort in; Danny (Morgan Davies) is an aspiring DJ who spins records in his room, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) is seen creating posters for a protest, and Kassie (Nell Fisher), who is the youngest, decapitates a doll (lovely).

Fans of the franchise can easily guess what comes next. An earthquake opens a hole in the building’s basement, leading Danny to investigate a vault that has just been revealed. Amidst many crosses and religious medallions, they find the ancient Necronomicon, along with old pictures of priests and vinyl records. After refusing to listen to his sister’s pleads, Danny brings the book (and records) to their apartment. Danny excitedly plays the new records he acquires, and on them, the priests from the photos read the ancient text, unleashing the evil spirits of the Book of the Dead. These evil spirits possess their mother in the building’s elevator as she is returning up to their unit. Upon entering their home, Ellie has quite seriously harmed herself and is threatening to harm her family. Beth now is responsible to save her nieces and nephew from the evil entity that has taken over her sister’s body. 

As usual in the horror genre, the characters are set up to make quite…dumb decisions to keep the plot moving. The records Danny insists on playing give the characters the backstory and rules of their mother’s demonic possession, including that this Necronomicon is one of three books, which is a crafty tie-in of Evil Dead Rise to not only the original trilogy but also the 2013 remake. It wouldn’t be the Evil Dead world without the most gore and blood, and the film doesn’t disappoint on that front. Each act of torture is more intense than the last as the film goes on. Kitchen tools become repurposed for mutilating flesh. Blood is everywhere you can look as we love to see in the Evil Dead franchise; from the walls of an elevator (a bit of a The Shining moment) and oozing from every surface in the apartment. Evil Dead Rise is not as intense with the gore and blood as the 2013 remake, but truly tries to get there. 

By setting the film in a high-rise apartment building, Cronin creates a more claustrophobic environment for his take on the Evil Dead. By using a dizzying mix of camera tilts and zooms, the director invokes an atmosphere of fear for not only the characters onscreen but also the audience. Combining the suffocating feel of the apartment with the intense sound design (Peter Albrechtsen), which switches between rash noises and complete silence, Cronin locks the audience, and family of characters, into the deeply brutal world he’s created. 

Unfortunately, Evil Dead Rise, like the previous installments of the franchise, has a problem with women. While yes, the film is centered around women who are given the chance to save themselves from the demonic spirits at large, the film feels unrelentingly cruel towards women (which is saying a lot for a franchise that features a sexual assault with a tree). Evil Dead Rise attempts to have a commentary on motherhood and not only the bonds between a mother and her children, but also the terrors motherhood can bring on. One of the issues with this commentary is that the themes are not coming directly from a mother; the film is written and directed by a man. If the overwhelming theme from the film is that a mother truly gives every inch of her body, soul, and mind to her children, wouldn’t it have been more effective to have a mother involved with the storytelling itself? What saves the motherhood themes in the film from bordering on offensive are the performances. The satanic spirits controlling Ellie manipulate the love between mother and children to trick her three children. Typical parenthood tropes, such as cooking and bath time, take on menacing connotations because of Sutherland’s terrifying performance. 

Horror films always have some of the best make-up work on display, and Evil Dead Rise knocks it out of the park. The special effect make-up combined with visual effects create a stunning balance between body horror and comedy that the franchise is known for. The make-up work in the film will stand out as some of the best of the year as the squirms they will bring out of audiences will be unmatched for its gruesome realism. From the cheese grater scene to a scene with an eyeball, the brutal, gory moments are some of the best in the franchise.

The story feels like perhaps it wasn’t always intended to be part of the Evil Dead franchise and could have been a standalone horror film that had some rewrites to fit into the Evil Dead world. The violence inflicted on the women in the film feels inherently much more emotionally driven in causing harm towards the characters than the average horror (or even Evil Dead) film versus just being a gory, good time. While Evil Dead Rise may please fans looking for chaos and mayhem with blood to the brim, the story just feels malicious and empty. 

Grade: C

Oscars Prospects:
Likely: None
Should be Considered: Best Make-up & Hairstyling, Best Sound

Release Date: April 21, 2023
Where to Watch: In Theaters

Kenzie Vanunu
she/her @kenzvanunu
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky
Sign: Capricorn

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