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Evil Dead Rise is a Satisfyingly Scary Return to the Franchise

In an online exclusive Nic's Flix, Nic Chang walks us through the newest gory and gruesome edition to the Evil Dead franchise

If you want to find a franchise that perfectly combines horror, gore and camp in horrifying B-grade fashion, look no further than the Evil Dead franchise. Transitioning from straight horror to pure camp without losing track of its gory roots, it’s been a staple in pop culture; bringing us terrifyingly silly Deadites, compelling mythology, inventive kills, and our beloved, groovy anti-hero, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell). Since Starz’s brilliant Ash vs Evil Dead was cancelled in 2018, the franchise went quiet - until Evil Dead Rise.

Almost destined for the small screen as an HBO Max original, Evil Dead Rise was upgraded to a theatrical release when test audiences went wild for it, and for good reason, because it’s the type of film that should be seen with a huge crowd. Seeking to find the middle ground between Raimi’s dark slapstick comedy against Álvarez’s relentlessly cruel horror, its successful tonal balances lie in how it executes the gut punches of its premise and, in the process, delivers a true Evil Dead film.

Still from Evil Dead Rise (2023) dir. Lee Cronin

In modern Los Angeles, guitar technician Beth (Lily Sullivan) reunites with her estranged sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), Ellie’s son, Danny (Morgan Davies), and two daughters, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Kassie (Nell Fisher), at their high-rise apartment building. Since her husband separated two months ago, Ellie struggles to balance work with caring for her children and plans to move out. After an earthquake leads Danny into the hidden depths of the building, he finds the Necronomicon, accompanied by some vinyl recordings. His curiosity inadvertently leads him to play the Sumerian chants of the Necronomicon, releasing the Deadites. Ellie is quickly possessed, leaving Beth in a battle for survival as she tries to save her family.

Director Lee Cronin understands what an Evil Dead film requires. It follows the familiar formula of its predecessors, meaning its bare-bones narrative will not bring huge surprises. However, Evil Dead Rise demonstrates that the craft of its set-pieces matters, delivering bucketfuls of gore and horror with intense, exhilarating energy.

DP Dave Garbett of Ash vs Evil Dead experiments with a variety of camera tricks, including split diopters, Dutch angles, sharp pans and tilts, POV shots, and close-ups to exacerbate its adrenaline-filled horror and focus on the unpleasant, cruel nature of its violence. Including decapitations, bodily dismemberments, impalements and eye trauma, Garbett’s camera doesn’t shy away from the genuinely disgusting practical effects, intended to gross audiences and satisfy their sadistic cravings. The same goes for Bryan Shaw’s tight editing, allowing Evil Dead Rise to deliver beyond its quota of absurd gore to earn its R18+ rating.

Still from Evil Dead Rise (2023) dir. Lee Cronin

Evil Dead Rise’s impeccable sound design further enhances its gruesome nature by amplifying the impact and sounds of its violence. It also brings attention to the claustrophobic atmosphere of its apartment setting. Even hearing the Sumerian chants of the Necronomicon boom over the loudspeakers instils a sense of dread and doom as it suggests and eventually solidifies its character fates.

It delivers what an Evil Dead film requires, but it differs by only using its cabin-in-the-woods setting for the opening sequence as a call-back to previous films before shifting to its daunting apartment building. Evil Dead Rise risks distancing itself from franchise iconography, but its use of spaces, vintage lighting and make-up effects enables it to resemble an old-school splatter flick and still manages to squeeze in franchise call-backs, references and motifs, including its iconic chainsaw, to satisfy fans. Ash Williams remains a deeply missed character, but Evil Dead Rise’s ability to build likeable character foundations proves the franchise can move on without him and presents several paths it can move forward in.

Within its dark comedy and slapstick set-pieces, Evil Dead Rise maintains the absurdity of its franchise roots, making the Deadite antics rather silly. At the same time, the horror surrounding them hasn’t been sacrificed as they mutilate their hosts’ bodies with fatal injuries, torture their victims with painful methods and spread evil through its unforgiving chaos. The complex means required to kill a Deadite make it nearly unstoppable, and, because this is an Evil Dead film, no one is safe, including the children. Evil Dead Rise heightens the hell and terror of its set-pieces of family torture and child endangerment by committing to its nastiest, cruellest impulses towards its characters, willingly pushing the boundaries of bad taste and making it the type of unsafe, midnight movie cinema that almost didn’t exist anymore.

Still from Evil Dead Rise (2023) dir. Lee Cronin

Further calibrating Evil Dead Rise’s tonal control of being scary, heartbreaking and funny without feeling jarring is Alyssa Sutherland’s performance. As the primary highlight of her cast, how her caring demeanour shifts into something malicious is magnificent acting, especially as you witness Ellie’s transformation. She twists viewers’ sympathy for her into pure horror as she commits to the Deadite antics. With the film’s understanding of her contribution to its genre elements, it focuses on her expressive performance, making her one of the more memorable Deadites to date.

What makes for scarier viewing is the core family dynamics. Evil Dead Rise takes time to focus on its central characters, providing the building blocks of their personalities without relying on any fat. Once it gets you to care about them, Evil Dead Rise punishes your investment in them by tearing this family apart. Watching your loved ones transform into murderous monsters as they cannot fight the forces taking over their bodies, and knowing they’ll come after you and that you may have no choice but to kill the demons controlling their bodies, leads to suitably harrowing material. Even if there’s a way out for this family unit, Evil Dead Rise establishes the enduringly bleak horror that things will never be the same.

While Cronin’s screenplay serves as a strong tribute to Evil Dead, its flaws still exist. An underdeveloped subplot revolving around Beth’s pregnancy feels like a device to over-emphasise its themes of motherhood and family, its minor characters act as props to increase the body count, and a third-act element feels underused when it could have maximised the potential of its carnage. However, its obvious Evil Dead Rise is the work of a true fan who knows how to stay spiritually true to what the franchise is.

Still from Evil Dead Rise (2023) dir. Lee Cronin

Evil Dead Rise is a film that rips your guts out and plays with them in sadistic fashion, but not without letting you in on the fun. It delivers the familiar goods that franchise fans and gorehounds will expect and suggests other paths for Evil Dead to move forward in. It welcomes newcomers to its mixture of genre set-pieces and antics to provide a fun time at the movies. By successfully continuing the franchise’s strong streak since 1981, it can only continue to go upwards. For that reason, Evil Dead Rise rules.

Evil Dead Rise opens in theatres on Thursday, 20 April 2023.

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