Evil Dead Rise (2023) Review: Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy has always had a nasty, demented quality to it. While the first entry reveled in the strengths of an extreme, unforgettable cabin in the woods horror, the sequel utilized the same setting to embrace an absurd, darkly comedic tone to heighten the extremities of a world infested with Deadites. Although Army of Darkness veers away from the central setting that cemented the franchise’s legacy, it offers gems of the splatstick variety. It accelerates towards a strong finish, with two killer endings (one theatrical and the other being the director’s cut) to choose from.
When Fede Alvarez decided to reinvigorate the franchise in 2013 with his darkly grim, endlessly bleak The Evil Dead, it embraced an identity that was very different from Raimi’s films, despite having all the narrative markings that populate the original trilogy. This is not a criticism of Alvarez’s entry at all. Instead, the new reboot offered such a horrifyingly traumatic experience with no respite that it emerged as a cinematic experience that would be rather difficult to replicate. Fast forward to Lee Cronin’s newest entry in the franchise, Evil Dead Rise, a film that carves out a fun, promising, gnarly middle-ground where the nastiest Deadties are allowed to mutate and fester.
Evil Dead Rise opens with a classic Raimi shot that characterizes the first two Evil Dead films: the frenetic whoosh shot that conveys the undead traveling at supernatural speed from a first-person point of view. By immediately establishing it as a fake-out, Cronin makes the tone of his film pretty clear. We are here to have a bloody good time while scalps are torn out, the flesh is bitten off, and even children become victims to some of the most demented entities in the history of American horror. And it sure is a hellishly enjoyable ride.
The focus is shifted from the cabin in the woods trope to an L.A. apartment on the verge of being torn down. Something is unsettling about the space from the get-go, as the building seems to be on its last legs, somehow preternaturally aware of the horrors that are about to go down within it in a few hours. Musician Beth (Lily Sullivan) finds out that she’s pregnant, and this surprise urges her to visit her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her three kids.
Although warm towards one another, Ellie and Beth seem to have some underlying tension between them. While Beth is frustrated that her sister does not take her career seriously and only deems her a “groupie,” Beth’s absence miffs Ellie, particularly during the difficult time of separation from her husband. However, a more incredible, unimaginable source of horror is about to grip this family unit and tear them apart, no matter how much love they have for one another.
The Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, or The Book of the Dead, is the literal catalyst for the rise of evil in the Evil Dead franchise. Cronin utilizes this established plot point to get his story going. However, everything that happens after that is completely fresh territory.
Here, we have two sisters and three children plunged into the mouth of madness, with Deadite Ellie terrorizing her kin in a way we have never seen before in the franchise. There’s no sense of mercy: nobody is safe, not even the children, and it does not matter whether fates are deserved or otherwise.
Trapped inside the apartment, Beth must step up to shield the kids from their mother, who won’t stop before every one of them is dead (or undead). As you might already know, Ellie is truly gone, and Mommy is with the maggots now. What wears her face is a conniving, ruthless demon who will crawl through vents and chomp off necks without hesitation.
Every Deadite in the franchise is unique. We have Deadite Cheryl taunting Ash Williams in Evil Dead, deliberately preying on Ash’s humanity to mock his empathy, while Deadite Mia of the reboot vomits chunky blood and splits her tongue with a box-cutter before kissing a traumatized Natalie.
In Evil Dead Rise, Deadite Ellie is an unstoppable force: her body contorts like a marionette, she mocks and coos to her children to manipulate and terrorize them, and she’s ready to turn anyone who stands in her way. Sutherland is sublime in the role, as she brings an edge of menace to the character, alternating between darkly comedic scares and truly unsettling evil machinations.
Evil Dead Rise sports a healthy amount of violence and gore, but I wouldn’t say it necessarily tops Mia slicing The Abomination in half with a chainsaw as blood rains on her sequence in The Evil Dead. However, there is plenty to look forward to, as the film heightens the terror of a claustrophobic space with the dangers posed by everyday household objects, such as the bathtub, a gas stove, and a particularly dangerous cheese grater. Eyes are on the verge of being gouged out, chainsaws are revved, and a mutated, amalgamated mass of Deadites emerges as the final boss in this game of blood, guts, and gore.
Cronin plays a cat-and-mouse game with the audience, cleverly staging shots that sufficiently elevate what could have been yet another underwhelming apartment horror where a loving family unit is torn asunder. The man loves split diopter shots, and all of them (there is a handful) are exceptionally well done. Body horror is used to induce pure, unadulterated fear while never forgetting to have fun with it.
Evil Dead Rise makes an already-solid horror franchise even stronger and introduces fresh, demented nightmares to the psyche. As the blood flows, the fun seems to have only begun.