Deadites show up at a condemned Los Angeles highrise to pull apart its residents in particularly gory fashion in Evil Dead Rise, which opens in Prague cinemas and worldwide this weekend. This blood-drenched update ignores the events of the original Sam Raimi trilogy, the excellent 2013 reboot, and TV’s Ash vs Evil Dead, but that’s just fine: narrative consistency has never been a concern for the franchise.
While Evil Dead Rise lacks the comic ingenuity of Raimi’s original films and the sheer terror of Fede Álvarez’s reboot, it’s an undeniably well-executed piece of horror filmmaking that runs the gamut from creeping dread in its early scenes to over-the-top bloodbath by the finale. Fans of the franchise, and horror aficionados in general, can’t really complain with what writer-director Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) delivers here.
More plot-heavy than previous entries, Evil Dead Rise opens at the familiar cabin in the woods as Teresa (Mirabai Pease) and Caleb (Richard Crouchley) discover that their friend Jessica (Anna-Maree Thomas) has become a possessed zombie corpse, affectionately known throughout the series (but not here) as a Deadite.
But forget those guys — really. Evil Dead Rise instead follows touring guitar tech Beth (Lily Sullivan), who shows up at a grotty L.A. highrise inhabited by her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), nieces Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Kassie (Nell Fisher), and nephew Danny (Morgan Davies) after learning she is expecting a child of her own.
But wouldn’t you know it: after mom sends out the kids to get pizza, an earthquake knocks out the power and opens up a hole to a crypt in the basement. Danny, ever the explorer, goes down to investigate and comes back up with the Necronomicon and a pair of dusty vinyl records, and we all know what will happen when he plays them.
The plot-heavy first act of Evil Dead Rise is a departure from previous entries in the series, with an amount (and type) of exposition more in line with something like the recent The Pope’s Exorcist; the gruesome opening, otherwise irrelevant to the story, feels as though it was tacked on to remind viewers of what kind of movie this is (but ultimately frames the movie as a kind of backdoor prequel).
No other Evil Dead film has felt the need to explain itself in this way, and the more we learn about the backstory of the Book of the Dead the less interesting it becomes. The random nature of the book’s appearance in previous entries is a lot more interesting than the familiar Catholic priest stuff this one trots out.
But once the plot is set into motion, Evil Dead Rise turns both into bloodbath that becomes more and more horrifying as it goes along as well as a meaty allegory for motherhood and child abuse. Mom Ellie is the first to turn Deadite, and quickly turns to terrorizing her children; in one of the film’s most effective scenes of dread, the possessed mother pleads with her youngest child to be let back into their apartment.
The presence of children among the leads of Evil Dead Rise is also unusual, and even more shocking for a mainstream horror film, the movie doesn’t shy away from child violence. The kids here puke maggots, eat glass, get stabbed, lit ablaze, and drenched in blood, and reunite with their mother to form an unholy monster in a truly show-stopping climax that features both a chainsaw and a woodchipper.
At its core, though, this is a movie about what children do to their parents and what parents do to their children, all experienced through the eyes of an expectant mother. There’s some genuine unpleasantness in both the allegory itself and all the blood spilled on screen, but that’s what horror is all about.
Viewers expecting the go-for-broke filmmaking originality Raimi displayed in early Evil Dead movies may be left disappointed (a blood-filled elevator gag cribbed from The Shining almost feels shameful), but Evil Dead Rise is a first-rate splatterfest. Coming on the heels of last weekend’s Renfield, 2023 is feeling like a particularly gory time at the cinema.