For horror fans, the Evil Dead franchise is a cornerstone of the genre. The series has shifted tones wildly from the first in 1981 (experimental, brutal, low budget horror) to the second (slapstick comedy, gore) to the third (fantasy?!?) to the fourth (back to straightforward brutal horror with plenty of gore). There’s even been a TV series. All of them have been well-received, which is rare for horror franchises — but has helped cement the name as beloved and enduring.
The fifth addition to the film franchise has premiered at SXSW and director Lee Cronin crafted a film that pays homage to the series while bringing a fresh perspective. He does this by combining the disparate tones of all the films, changing the setting, and shifting the types of characters that usually inhabit these movies.
The original Evil Dead was one of the films that helped established the (now parodied, such as in Cabin in the Woods) trope of gathering a group of young folks in a cabin to party and have sex, and then slowly punish and kill them off until there’s only one left.
In Evil Dead Rise, there is no longer a hapless male protagonist in Ash Williams nor a teen friend group, but a family unit led by two sisters. Ellie is a mother of three kids — and when I say kids, I mean actual children, not 22 year olds — who struggles to raise her family in an ancient, run down apartment building. She’s visited by her hipper younger sister Beth, and the kids adore their rock-band-touring aunt. An earthquake happens, opening the depths of the apartment building, and an old book is found…
Evil Dead connoisseurs probably know the gist of what happens next. Carnage, mayhem, madness, etc. What’s new and fresh is where it’s happening, who it is happening to, and how Lee Cronin frames all of it and has fun with the numerous gags he sets up.
The effects are a standout feature, with the makeup and gore hitting stomach-churning highs, but what sets this entry apart is the exceptional performances. The two leads, Alyssa Sutherland and Lily Sullivan, are put through the ringer (as is customary for an Evil Dead) and their physicality and strength is a highlight.
The biggest issue with Rise is its ending. The film expertly builds and builds to a wonderful moment in a hallway and elevator but then overstays its welcome, and the inventiveness of the rest of the movie devolves into a more rote splatter fest.
For modern Evil Dead sequels I still prefer Fede’s, where the brutal gags felt like they hit harder and the climax was an all-timer; however, Evil Dead Rise is a worthy entry in the series.