‘Evil Dead Rise’ Review: Gruesome Sequel Takes a Diabolically Comical Approach to Motherhood

Following the world premiere of writer and director Lee Cronin’s “Evil Dead Rise” at this year’s SXSW, actress Lily Sullivan told the audience that “horror is the ultimate collaboration of artistry.” The fifth installment of the “Evil Dead” franchise is precisely that: an impressive amalgamation of talent working together to uphold the rotten core of the beloved original Sam Raimi films while also conjuring new evil to the franchise. Cronin successfully delivers a new chapter in the Necronomicon and slays the screen with artistic rigor until the credits roll.

The opening teases a familiar scene: an isolated cabin, a young couple, and a joking quarrel. Yet, the first introduction to actual violence in the film really sets the tone, complete with jaw-dropping effectiveness and sheer visceral horror. The story then transports to a metropolitan area, where our actual main characters are introduced. Sullivan stars as Beth, an ambitious guitar tech who visits her estranged sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), and her three kids after her latest tour ends. Beth arrives bearing gifts and a surprise pregnancy which she hopes will bring her and Ellie closer, since her sister always has the answers in times of hardship.

But on that fateful night, the city is rocked by an earthquake, one that leaves the family trapped without electricity or a way out of their high-rise apartment. Ellie’s son Danny (Morgan Davies) discovers a hole in the wreckage that leads to the unveiling of the infamous Necronomicon and accompanied records which he curiously plays, despite his sister Bridget’s (Gabrielle Echols) better judgment.

The Book of the Dead receives a gnarly facelift in “Evil Dead Rise”: the pages have less text to accompany its disturbing sketches, and the book is latched shut by razor-sharp animal teeth that only open once blood falls upon its skin-bound cover. Iconography from Raimi’s films is lovingly littered throughout the film, including the familiar clock tolling away the hours of the night before the family is “dead by dawn,” taxidermy mounted on the wall, and the signature deadite makeup, which is upheld with milky eyes and a fiery red finish.

It’s also refreshing to report that the motif of predatory branches throughout the franchise has been thoughtfully replaced with a similar type of physical menace and restraint, this time without the sexual violation. Cronin’s camerawork is gorgeous, complete with signature panning and sweeping action motion and close-up shots. He also utilizes the split diopter shot to increase a sense of paranoia and unease, as well as an effective fisheye lens that allows audiences to get up close and personal with Ellie as she starts to wreak havoc.

Cronin brings horror home and violates any type of familial safety that once existed. The pregnancy subplot adds a resilient layer to the maternal nature of the film. However, the emotional intensity gets lost at times, due to all of the fantastic violence, gore, and comedy.

Beth adores her nieces and nephew as she fights like hell to save as many family members as she can. As characters turn into deadites, each transformation is uniquely grotesque, yet visually and audibly gratifying. The foley work in “Evil Dead Rise” is spectacular and the sound design alone warrants audiences to see this film in theaters for full effect. The crunching and cracking sounds, coupled with impressive contortion work, speak to the physically demanding nature of the film and talent of its cast.

The disturbing way in which Ellie and Bridget utilize their bodies is stunning and provides a deeper appreciation for the ways in which the human form can be artistically displayed in possession films. Crouching on a kitchen counter, floating under a bloody bedsheet, and crawling across the walls all capture the terrifying physical presence of the demons through quality stunt work.

“Evil Dead Rise” accomplishes what predecessors like “The Exorcist,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “Poltergiest” did — it brings evil to a normal family living in a seemingly safe and urban area. Cronin clearly pays homage to iconic horror films in other ways, from an elevator scene that “The Shining” fans will love, a sweet mention to the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, and close-up shots on eyeballs reminiscent of Tobe Hooper’s style in “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”

As ruthless as the film is, comedy is still present throughout. Sutherland’s performance as Ellie mirrors Toni Collette in “Hereditary” but with more sinister sweetness. She sings lullabies to trick her youngest daughter Kassie (Nell Fisher) but then later screams obscenities that no child wants to hear from their mother. Yet, through all of that darkness, Sutherland delivers a performance that is comical, creepy, and relentlessly raw.

A small but mighty force, Fisher serves a beacon of light throughout the bloodshed as she provides small laughs, adorable care, and massive bravery, which remind Beth what she is fighting for. The film is drenched in gore, but Cronin counterbalances that with a playfulness and ferocious commentary on the weight of motherhood with all of its selflessness and enduring power to fight for (or justifiably against) the ones you love.

With any entry into the “Evil Dead” franchise, practical effects are a requirement. The body horror and kill scenes in Cronin’s film are imaginative and brutal. There are multiple scenes that will evoke a physical reaction, whether that’s from disgust or delight. A new creature gives a callback to Cronenberg and the enormous amount of blood used on set will satisfy fans of Fede Alverez’s 2013 “Evil Dead” remake.

Cronin’s “Evil Dead Rise” is a blood-soaked blast. He summons all of the best aspects of the franchise, while still creating a beast all his own that can boldly stand apart from the series. This is the kind of horror franchise film that make audiences fall in love with the genre all over again.

Grade: B+

“Evil Dead Rise” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Warner Bros. will release the film in theaters on Friday, April 21.

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