Amongst a sea of incredible sequels flooding the market in 2023, Evil Dead Rise is the perfect culmination of this franchise’s untouchable legacy. I am not quite sure how it took a full decade for us to gain another entry after 2013’s stellar, beautifully hyperviolent Evil Dead, but here we are! An ensemble cast form a dysfunctional family amidst the death knell of a once-booming apartment building. Produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell and written/directed by Lee Cronin, Evil Dead energy flows through the veins of atmospheric and sadistic gory treat, Evil Dead Rise.
An intro that promised my packed crowd both “a lot of gore” and that it would be a “roller coaster” definitely set up my expectations for a nasty good time at the movies. Almost immediately, the film delivers in a big way. It folds itself over into fast-paced horror suspense by rolling through our first set of victims. A tactic previously employed skillfully in 2009’s underrated Friday the 13th reboot works wonders here to establish the stakes in a major way. Just as the title treatment quite literally rises to the occasion, the audience broke out in uproarious applause. This is truly a possession movie done right, in the vein of a horror-classic franchise whose mythology and general vibe is perfectly emulated.
Estranged sisters Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and Beth (Lily Sullivan) are about to have their relationship put to the ultimate test—Beth, a guitar tech for a popular band, arrives to stay with Ellie and her quaint little family while reeling from the fresh discovery of her pregnancy. Their building is getting “knocked in a month,” and thus most of its various tenants have already moved away elsewhere. Ellie tries to be the best mom she can be under insurmountable pressures to find them a new home, and quick. Siblings Bridget (Gabrielle Echos), an activist prepping for an upcoming Labor Day protest, adventurous DJ-in-training Danny (Morgan Davies), and curious young child Kassie (Nell Fisher) don’t seem particularly phased by the family’s current living situation. They gossip about their building being a former bank—if one has ever seen a horror film before, they will know that is being mentioned for a particular reason.
With its base family dynamics firmly established, Evil Dead Rise gets free rein to go as wildly off the rails as possible. A massive earthquake happens that rattles the very foundation of the building, and horrifyingly cracks deep holes into the parking garage. One massive crater specifically catches Danny’s eye; he proceeds to climb down into it. A busted open bank vault houses something that looks to be an ancient tomb. Religious imagery jumps out at him, as Danny decides to steal a couple vinyls he finds. The biggest and perhaps iconographically-speaking the most recognizable element of the series makes its appearance: the Book of the Dead.
Teeming with bugs and adorned with grimy-looking teeth, nothing about this book is inviting whatsoever. Yet, Danny seems to awaken something inside. He plays two of the records—the first tells of a unique artifact; the second is a direct translation of the Book’s “spiritual resurrection passages.” This clueless child awakens an ancient evil that zooms towards a clueless Ellie in the elevator. Mommy is not quite so normal anymore. What follows is about as bonkers as one would anticipate. Decapitations, shards of glass being swallowed, a cheese grater to the leg muscle… if one watches these flicks for the nasty, goopy stuff, they will not be disappointed.
Lee Cronin uses just about every imaginable tool in his box, including but not limited to: Hellraiser-style orchestral score, a “POV” of the demonic entity, a modern day equivalent to the original’s vine-rape, and the greatest bloody elevator sequence since The Shining. Franchise Easter eggs aplenty rain down like bloody drops of perfection, coupled wonderfully with squeamish practical effects work. Nostalgically speaking, words can not express the sheer joy I felt at hearing the deadites spouting “dead by dawn!” in obvious tribute to 1987’s Evil Dead II.
Evil Dead Rise delivers everything fans crave and more on a shiny, eye-popping platter. Between crowd-pleasing moments of horror violence, familial connection and badass one-liners, and a show-stopping Alyssa Sutherland as the signature baddie, I cannot think of a single issue I had with this production from top to bottom. There is nothing quite as satisfying as when a long-gestating project is worth the wait. What started out as a simple streaming release was altered to going theatrical on the strength of its test screenings. Come hang out with a picture-perfect family in their dilapidated, seemingly inescapable abode! Be warned: there will be blood.
Demon-scream in delight when Evil Dead Rise limbers into theaters everywhere on Friday, April 21st.