And I thought the Overlook Hotel’s elevator had a blood spill problem…
Evil Dead Rise is a supernatural horror and standalone entry in the Evil Dead series, which has completely eschewed its campier elements in favour of the sort of tone that’s designed to traumatize you for life (to be fair, everything that happened to Ash Williams in Evil Dead II was pretty traumatizing, blunted for us only by the slapstick elements and goofy delivery).
We open with a neat subversion of the famous Raimi-patented demonic POV shot through a dense woodland that turns out to be live footage captured by a drone, which is where all the fun and silliness end. Within minutes, we witness a brutal scalping followed by a quick beheading (involving two separate individuals), a savage facial shredding by way of the aforementioned drone’s propellers, and the sort of terrifying display of supernatural levitation abilities that Ash himself would find most ungroovy.
Simply put, the brief opening sequence told me exactly what kind of film this was and assured me I was in for a good time.
Be forewarned – spoilers abound in plenteousness.
Following the seemingly disconnected opener, we’re introduced to our heroine – Beth Bixley (Lily Sullivan), a guitar technician who resents any insinuations that she was ever a groupie. She’s a little rough around the edges, a bit of a social maverick, and – to her immense irritation – pregnant. This news prompts a visit to her estranged sister, tattoo artist Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), who lives with her three children in the sort of apartment complex whose walls support their own ecosystems. When a small quake opens a hole in the building’s underground parking garage, Ellie’s teenage son discovers a mysterious book that we recognize to be bound in human flesh and penned with blood, savvy Raimi enthusiasts that we are, along with some records dated from the 1920s. Because he’s got a record player instead of a modicum of common sense, he plays the records, listening with rapt attention as a severely misguided priest recites a familiar incantation that summons the entities detailed in the book. Cue the rushing demonic forces, vicious bodily assaults (the most memorable involving a cheese grater), grotesque physical mutilations, projectile vomiting (and lots of it), guttural taunting (“Mommy’s with the maggots, now!”), the sort of body horror that would make David Cronenberg gag with envy, and enough blood to plague Egypt for the next century. There’s so much blood, in fact, that Beth spends close to the entire third act drenched head to toe in it.
I do believe she might be the bloodiest protagonist in cinematic history…
As far as premises go, the core concept of an Evil Dead film is about as complex as your average Friday the 13th movie, typically involving a group of kids or young adults getting picked off by malicious Deadites in an isolated woodland environment until only one remains (usually minus a hand or two). The key difference this time around is that the action is set in an apartment instead of a cabin and the at-risk kids belong to a single mother, who is the first to fall victim to the Deadites. Beth (who is debating even keeping her own child at the start of the film) is subsequently thrust into a maternal role and forced to protect her nieces and nephew from their own possessed mother – and is only partially successful (the film’s willingness to offer up some of the children as fodder to the Deadites both surprised me and left me wondering whether or not any of them would survive the finale). While I hold that simple premises are generally the most effective ones, horror and slasher movies usually require a bit of a boost in the theme and character departments (the Friday the 13th franchise epitomize basicness, lacking both interesting characters and imagination, and generally has less to say than Jason himself). Fortunately, the characters at play here work very well, especially Beth and her youngest niece Kassie, elevating what otherwise might have been a boilerplate demon possession movie into something a little more engaging. The theme of motherhood is on full display here, with Beth progressing from aloof but cool auntie at the start to defensive mama grizzly by the end. The rapport she builds with Kassie in so short a time is believable and genuine, and it’s implied that she has not only decided to keep her child by the end, but that she stands a good chance of being a good mom too.
Visually, the film follows the all-too-common modern horror trend of low contrasts, dim lighting, flickering lightbulbs, and the sorts of depressing dwellings that no sane human being would ever subject themselves to (the fact that Ellie is facing eviction and has no other options is never really explored). This is a shame, because Ari Aster proved with Midsommar that it is possible to craft an effective horror with wide open spaces and lurid colours, and I feel that a nicer, more upscale apartment might have functioned better in contrast to the hundreds of gallons of blood what would eventually come to stain its walls. That being said, writer/director Lee Cronin knows how to establish a moody atmosphere and is very skilled at orienting the viewer in the location at hand. It’s a little unfortunate, however, that he’s never given the opportunity to really explore his own creative identity he established with his first film, 2019’s horror/mystery piece The Hole in the Ground. While he captures Sam Raimi’s style and aesthetic here perfectly, I would have liked to have seen more creative and imaginative touches that are unique to him, especially since he’s just getting started. I’ve stated before that we seem to be in the midst of an Indie horror renaissance, and Cronin is someone I’m certainly interesting in seeing more of in the years to come. Hopefully his third film is an original piece, one that isn’t afraid to include something besides grey in its colour palette.
While hardly as funny or lighthearted as its predecessors (2013’s remake-quel not withstanding), Evil Dead Rise is so violently outlandish and over-the-top you can’t help but have fun watching it. I had a big grin on my face the entire time – which probably tells you a little more about me than you cared to know. The characters work, the ending left me satisfied, and I enjoyed myself. What more can you ask for in an Evil Dead film?