Year:  2023

Director:  Lee Cronin

Rated:  R

Release:  April 20, 2023

Distributor: Warner/Universal

Running time: 96 minutes

Worth: $15.50
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Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher, Richard Crouchley

… a riveting, shockingly violent and blackly comedic ghost train ride spattered with blood and dripping with menace …

It’s impossible to overstate the impact of Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead movies on modern horror cinema. Comprising The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2 (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992), this revered trilogy evolved from relentless horror to spectacular horror comedy to surreal snarky fantasy, buoyed by Raimi’s wildly kinetic direction and star Bruce Campbell’s assured gurning as unlikely meathead hero Ash Williams.

In 2013, Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe) had a red hot go at making a new entry, Evil Dead, and while the film was certainly technically competent, and gave us a great lead performance from Jane Levy, it somehow lacked the magic that makes Raimi’s films so unforgettable. Ten years later, Irish director Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) has had another crack with Evil Dead Rise and the result is… actually pretty damn solid.

Evil Dead Rise is the story of Beth (Lily Sullivan), a guitar technician who is taking a much-needed mental health break from work to visit her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and Ellie’s kids Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies), and Kassie (Nell Fisher). The family live in a crappy rundown apartment building in Los Angeles (*cough* New Zealand *cough*), which becomes even less structurally sound after an earthquake shakes the place to its literal foundations. Said tremor also unearths a bank vault beneath the building, which reveals a number of creepy vinyl records and a certain book that’s bound in human flesh and inked in human blood…

Evil Dead Rise does a bunch of things right. Eschewing the now very familiar “spam in a cabin” conceit of the series for a family-centered yarn set in the city, is a great choice. It makes Rise feel like a fresh(ish) take on the material rather than yet another retread. Also adding lashings of grim and grisly humour to the mix is something that was missing from the 2013 version and is very much appreciated here. The gore, which is plentiful and sometimes jaw-droppingly nasty, feels creative and fun for those with the intestinal fortitude (and mild sociopathy) to appreciate it. Extra kudos should go to Alyssa Sutherland who makes a memorable and legit creepy screen presence, adding an element of occasionally alarming physicality to the mix.

On the downside, the film opens with a jarring and kind of goofy prologue that does that whole “One Day Earlier” thing which, like, can we just retire that trope, please? It feels unnecessary in a film that comes in at a slender 96 minutes. Maybe this is a concession to the latest short attention span generation? Regardless, it’s a dud beat in a film that is otherwise assured.

Lee Cronin’s previous flick, The Hole in the Ground, is a subtle affair so it’s a pleasant surprise that he manages to encapsulate the Evil Dead vibe with such alacrity. In a lot of ways, 2013’s Evil Dead is a slicker and more polished movie, but this series was never about that. Cronin understands the importance of the twisted cackling evil that capers at the heart of these movies and delivers an updated version that just feels right.

Evil Dead Rise is a riveting, shockingly violent and blackly comedic ghost train ride spattered with blood and dripping with menace and although it never quite hits the heights of Raimi’s vision (and, honestly, how could it?) it nonetheless delivers an experience that will have Evil Dead fans grinning from ear to ear.