When the original Evil Dead was released in 1982, it caused controversy and disdain from the Conservative press due to its graphic and horrific content. It became one of the notoriously banned video nasties and wasn’t rereleased until the late 90s when it became a cult favourite. After seeing the new film Evil Dead Rise, I wonder what the press would have thought of this back in the 80s, for if the original was graphic, how could you describe the content of this? A nightmarish assault on the senses that will linger for a very long time. And I loved it.
Struggling with three children in an apartment block condemned to be torn down, Ellie reunites with her estranged sister, Beth. Their reunion is cut short after an earthquake releases a secret underground safe, where one of Ellie’s children discovers the notorious Book of the Dead, along with some vinyl recordings of the mantra used to release the evil spirits. When he plays these discs, their family unit is torn apart by the spirit that possesses their mother.
Evil Dead Rise is not for the squeamish, as it goes to places you think the film will never go. It is often brutal, alarming and often sickeningly violent. Yet it works, thanks to director and writer Lee Cronin, who made the equally disturbing The Hole In The Ground in 2019, really understanding the genre and how to make a film both gripping and terrifying in equal measures. He has taken the basis of the Sam Raimi film (who is the executive producer here, along with the series star Bruce Campbell), added the nods and winks to the fans without dropping the tension and builds on that throughout the film.
In the pre-credit sequence, we get an excellent play on Raimi’s eccentric camera shots flying through the woods. Cronin sets his stall out immediately with a scene that does make you jump before moving the action away from its familiar territory of the woods to a tower block in the dark streets of L.A. What is clever that the sense of isolation you get from the previous films is here in this one building. Standing alone with very little life outside, it is dark, creepy and a perfect setting for horror. He then gives us time to understand the leading players, two sisters with mother issues and three kids, all of various ages and all with their quirks. Once the book is discovered and the mantra read, buckle up for a terrifying ride.
What makes the horror so effective is that Cronin builds the visuals. It would have been so easy to show horrific image after horrific image, but what he does is he creates, thus making you wonder where they could ever go next. He ups the terror even more when you think it’s too much. What works is that, like all the best horrors, we care for the characters. We don’t want anything bad to happen to them, but this is an Evil Dead film, and so it does. It also never treats the events as a joke or feels smug, like the torture scenes in the Saw films. There is dark humour here, but it never slipped from being a serious piece of work.
It also helps that this has an outstanding central performance that will become one of the scariest roles ever. Lily Sullivan, as Beth, is a solid female lead who, while dealing with her demons, now has to deal with more intensely real ones. The young kids, played by Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies and Nell Fisher, are terrific, but it is Alyssa Sutherland as Ellie who steals the film. With the help of some genuinely disgusting makeup, she is terrifying, mixing a motherly charm with purely evil intentions; it’s one of the best horror performances.
If I do have a complaint, the film’s graphic nature almost crosses the line and is often relentless. However, on the whole, Evil Dead Rise is an intense horror film that promises that the series still has life in it, and unlike the reboot of the Scream franchise, it knows how to treat its fans and those who like their film bloody. So if you thought the lift scene in The Shining was extreme, you haven’t seen anything yet.
4 out of 5
Director: Lee Cronin
Starring: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, Nell Fisher, Mirabai Pease, Anna-Maree Thomas.
Written by: Lee Cronin
Running Time: 97 mins
Release date: 21st April 2023