New Zealand/Ireland. 2023.
Director/Screenplay – Lee Cronin, Producer – Rob Tapert, Photography – Dave Garbett, Music – Stephen McKeon, Visual Effects Supervisor – Charlie McClellan, Visual Effects – Cause & FX (Supervisor – Paul Dickson), EGG VFX (Supervisor – Aled Rhys Jones & Sam Salek), SSVFX (Supervisor – Liam Neville), Special Effects Supervisor – Brendon Durey, Makeup Effects/Prosthetics Designer – Luke Polti, Makeup Effects/Prosthetics Supervisor – Jason Docherty, Creature Designer – Odd Studio (Supervisor – Adam Johansen), Production Design – Nick Bassett. Production Company – Pacific Renaissance/Wild Atlantic Pictures.
Lily Sullivan (Beth), Alyssa Sutherland (Ellie), Gabrielle Echols (Bridget), Morgan Davies (Danny), Nell Fisher (Kassie), Mark Mitchinson (Mr Fonda), Mirabai Pease (Teresa), Anna-Maree Thomas (Jessica), Richard Crouchley (Caleb), Jayden Daniels (Gabriel), Billy Reynolds-McCarthy (Jake), Tai Wano (Scott)
Ellie lives in a condemned Los Angeles apartment building with her three children. She is visited by her sister Beth, a guitar technician with an internationally touring rock group. The children are returning with groceries when the building is struck by an earth tremor. This causes a crack to open up in the parkade, exposing the old bank vault beneath. Danny insists on venturing inside and returns with an ancient book and several gramophone records. In opening the book and playing the records back, he inadvertently enacts a ritual. Ellie becomes possessed and the others are forced to defend themselves as the demon begins a brutal and bloody assault in the apartment.
The Evil Dead (1981) was the first film from Sam Raimi. The mix of zombie possession, inventive DIY effects on a next-to-no budget and Raimi’s over-the-top approach served to make it a cult classic. Raimi was brought back to sequelise it with The Evil Dead II (1987), which began the series move in a more comic direction, and Army of Darkness (1992). Thereafter, Raimi went on to more mainstream fare before the original was brought back with a remake Evil Dead (2013), overseen by Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert, which received some okay notices. Not long after, Raimi oversaw the tv series Ash vs Evil Dead (2015-8) with Bruce Campbell reprising his role, which returned more to the comedic vein of the films.
Evil Dead Rise is a new Evil Dead film. It comes from Irish director Lee Cronin who had first appeared with one of the episodes of the anthology film Minutes Past Midnight (2016), before making The Hole in the Ground (2019), which had left me quite impressed with his potential. The new version is produced by Rob(ert) Tapert, a childhood friend of Sam Raimi who has worked as a producer for Raimi ever since The Evil Dead, while both Raimi and Bruce Campbell are on board as executive producers.
The selling point that Evil Dead Rise comes with is that it is a female-led Evil Dead film. It has become a fad among a good many films of recent that resurrect/remake familiar IPs – Ghostbusters (2016), Ocean’s 8 (2018), Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), What Men Want (2019), The Equalizer (2021), tv’s Dead Ringers (2023- ) – to offer a gender-flip and cast roles that were previously played by men with women. In practice, this seems a take that is more contemporary politics than one that offers anything truly innovative to the Evil Dead IP. It should be pointed that the 2013 remake also conducted a gender-flip and replaced Ash with Jane Levy when it came to the climax.
Your first confusion in watching the film is where it spends the first six-and-a-half minutes at a cabin and lakeside, which you presume is the same setting of all the other films. This goes predictably and contains a memorably gory scalping, before the credits roll. We then cut back to one day earlier and are introduced to the main characters. The surprise is that the rest of the film plays out in the apartment setting rather than the cabin in the woods locale that the other films (with the exception of Army of Darkness) opt for. Which neither particularly adds not detracts from anything. However, it creates confusion in wondering how things at the apartment relate back to the cabin setting of the prologue – I kept wondering whether the characters were going to take a road trip or some such (although the connection is explained in the final scene).
The first section is taken up with assorted family dramas, which is actually more given over to the characters than all the other characters that appear in the other Evil Dead films put together. In this regard Alyssa Sutherland makes quite a striking shift from an undeniably hot MILF rock chick to something totally deranged once she joins the possessed undead, mouthing taunts and snarls from outside the apartment door.
Thereafter, Lee Cronin places the pedal to the floor and serves up a ferocious, full-tilt barrage of splatter and gore – various novelty uses of kitchen implements, levitations, shotgun blasts, wine glasses eaten, maggots vomited, wood chipper crunchings and of course Lily Sullivan doing the expected and picking up the chainsaw at the climax. Cronin even borrows the elevator of blood from The Shining (1980) and takes it further and has characters inside drowning as it fills with blood.
What is perhaps noticeable here and in the 2013 film is the absence of Sam Raimi’s characteristic sense of humour, although to be fair that wasn’t so much present in the first Evil Dead and didn’t fully find its flowering until the second film. There is the odd cartoony effect like eyeballs popping out and flying into people’s mouths but mostly there is not. The show is played as relatively serious full-on splatter horror and while you can quibble about the realism of it, the tone is serious and not winking to the audience.
The upshot of this leads to the film’s biggest noticeable absence – the lack of any equivalent of Bruce Campbell’s Ash. Lily Sullivan inherits the role and the chainsaw but she is not the larger-than-life cartoon figure that Bruce Campbell became. There’s no slapping on the chainsaw are exclaiming “groovy” here. Whether it makes for a better Evil Dead with or without the horror comedy aspect is something you can debate, I am neither here nor there on the issue, although I do have to say that when you run the similarly serious-minded 2013 remake and Ash vs. the Evil Dead alongside, it is the latter that remains in memory.