‘Evil Dead Rise’ Review: The Mother of All Deadites

Peter Paras reviews Evil Dead Rise, a very entertaining new entry in the gory horror series that moves the action from a cabin into a high-rise apartment building.
User Rating: 8

Four decades after the clever, cheapo horror flick The Evil Dead unleashed Sam Raimi’s madcap, visceral filmmaking, writer/director Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) resurrects the beloved franchise a decade after the underrated Evil Dead from 2013. Evil Dead Rise is a tight 97-minute, gore-filled hoot of a time. A strong cast of relatively unknowns, including Alyssa Sutherland (Vikings) and Lily Sullivan (Barskins), ground the fifth entry, a series that’s never ever been shy about dishing out devilishly gruesome moments alongside truly laugh-out-loud antics. Has the Evil Dead reached a new high?

Just as the recent Scream VI sliced and diced in the Big Apple, Rise has a central location in the City of Angels. Instead of using the well-worn cabin in the woods, a soon-to-be demolished high-rise apartment complex is the place to trap humans who foolishly cling to their mouth-watering souls. Plotwise, it’s a family affair this time, as tech roadie Beth (Sullivan) comes to visit her older sister Ellie (Sutherland), who lives in the crumbling building with her three kids. As with the 2013 film, Beth enters the story with her own baggage of non-supernatural stress. Unfortunately for Beth and her nieces and nephew, older sibling Ellie is not herself — at all.

The basic formula for those new to the series is that an ancient book, “The Book of the Dead,” is found by someone who inexplicably has a creepy incantation spoken (this time via an old-timey vinyl on a high-tech DJ table) and chaos ensues. Central to the success of the films, the main person taken over by a “deadite” gets the opportunity to play the role big. Huge!

Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams’ fight to save his soul while possessed in the series’ best entry, 1987’s Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, is one of the best physical onscreen performances of the 20th century. Likewise, Jane Levy (Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist) did not disappoint, proclaiming, “You’re all going to die tonight!” in 2013’s remake. Now Sutherland gets to smile crazy, contort her body, and say many terrible, terrible things to her children. It’s a blast.

I started the review highlighting the actors, and that’s because everyone nails it. Sullivan is the de facto final gal who endures much pain and misery. Seeing a knife go straight through her hand should be a buzzkill, but Evil Dead has always had a knack for being funny at times, too (though the third entry, 1992’s Army of Darkness, perhaps took comedy shenanigans too far.) Do we fear cute ten-year-old Kassie (Nell Fisher) is going to unlock a door and let her mommy kill everyone? Yes, but we also REALLY want to see that happen.

The secret sauce is to be deadly scary and ridiculous, sometimes in the same scene. Director Cronin doesn’t so much copy Rami’s style as take some of the signature shots (the low roving camera, the dutch angles) and make it his own. A scene in a bathroom, in particular, is so effective in what Cronin doesn’t do as well.

The script (also by Cronin) nicely takes the setup from the other films and subverts it by having the main monster out to literally annihilate her own family. Much of the fun of watching the scenes play out is wondering how exactly Beth and Ellie’s children (including Morgan Davies and Gabrielle Nichols) can escape Mommy Dearest and the clearly “not earthquake-proof” structure.

As things go from bump in the night to all-out carnage, the practical and CG effects are terrific, with the film rightfully leaning far more on the practical side. I’d probably give 2013 the crown for best, most bloody moments overall, but Evil Dead Rise has several icky sequences. A new horrific creation in the third act even recalls the Rat King from The Last of Us Part II. With that said, not every scare is oodles of gore. Plenty of moments a more akin to John Carpenter’s original classic Halloween, with compositions favoring something creepy in the background or foreground. That said, a nod to The Shining‘s bucket of blood elevator scene is awesome.

Throughout the runtime, a sense of unpredictability works despite the structure adhering to many slasher tropes. We start with nine characters, and we assume that number will keep getting, um, slashed. Yet the how’s of each victim’s death and dismemberment are always rewarding.

Is the film perfect? The opening, despite a memorable title treatment, is a tad generic. Like Scream, the film introduces a few hot people to kill off quickly. How exactly that relates to the main cast works though. I assume this is because, without such a prologue, audiences are waiting until the end of act 1 for the mayhem to begin. I get it. Either way, it’s a minor nitpick in an otherwise thrilling fifth entry.

Evil Dead Rise is for fans and newcomers alike. True to form, it is a hard R-rated horror movie with regard to the buckets of violence and gore. The kind of film I was too young for back in the day when my friend’s older brother had many VHS copies of nearly all the Friday the 13th films. We watched them all, and I’m happy to see more gore on the big screen. I can’t wait to see Evil Dead Rise again.

Evil Dead Rise is now playing in theaters.

Written by
Peter Paras is pop culture writer who has been reviewing films for the past fifteen years. Raised in Chicago—but an Angeleno since the start of 21st century—he has plenty to say about films, television, videogames, and the occasional YouTube channel. He’s a frequent guest on Out Now with Aaron and Abe, as well as TV Campfire Podcast. His work has been published at Why So Blu, Game Revolution and E! Online. His favorites include: Sunset Blvd, Step Up 2 The Streets, Hackers, Paris Is Burning, both installments of The Last of Us, Destiny 2, and Frasier.

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