Evil Dead Rise (United States/New Zealand, 2023)

April 21, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Evil Dead Rise Poster

Evil Dead Rise, the fifth big-screen outing for Sam Raimi’s Deadites (they also had a three-season run on cable TV) tries to answer the question of whether The Evil Dead are strong enough on their own right to engage the viewer without the dominating presence of Bruce Campbell’s Ash. This represents the first time an installment in the series has bypassed Ash altogether (although his appearance in Fede Alvaraz’s 2013 remake was limited to a post-credits cameo). The jury is still out because, even though there’s a shotgun and a chainsaw, the new characters aren’t quite able to fill the Campbell-sized hole in the screenplay’s fabric. As was the case with the reincarnation, an Evil Dead movie probably needs its human star more than the other way around. At any rate, Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise take on the Deadite universe is better than Alvarez’s but remains considerably below that of Sam Raimi, who helmed the original trilogy (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, and Army of Darkness).

Although the movie opens in a cabin by the lake, the majority of the story transpires within a dilapidated Los Angeles tenement building that’s about to be torn down. One of the units is occupied by the cheerfully chaotic fatherless family of Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies), Kassie (Nell Fisher), and their mom, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland). Into this mix comes Beth (Lily Sullivan), Ellie’s ne’er-do-well sister, who is home from touring the world as a band’s audio technician with a stain on her soul and a baby in her belly. When an earthquake hits, a hidden vault is revealed deep under the parking garage. Embracing the inherent horror movie stupidity expected in an Evil Dead movie, Danny climbs down to see what’s what and discovers the Necronomicon and a series of old records. Of course, he feels compelled to open the Book of the Dead and play the records. This unleashes a demon and Ellie becomes the first unfortunate victim.

Perhaps acknowledging that the openly campy/comedic tone of Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness might not work without Campbell’s presence, Cronin (like Alvarez) opts for a more serious Evil Dead in line with Raimi’s original. Evil Dead Rise contains plenty of dark humor and the quantities of blood and over-the-top gore are as ridiculous as they were in the first film, but the movie opts for something closer to straightforward horror than the horror/comedy pastiche that Raimi adopted for the final two installments of his trilogy (which was carried over to “Ash vs. Evil Dead”).

For the most part, Evil Dead Rise follows the formula Raimi established in the 1980s for Deadite films. That means that, by the final scenes, everyone has been thoroughly doused in blood, the hero/heroine is in full possession of a chain saw, and most of the supporting characters are dead. The body count isn’t high for a horror film with this much violence but that’s primarily because the setting limits the potential number of victims. So, instead of worrying about quantity, Cronin opts for quality. And even the Ash-replacement ends up getting sliced and diced (just like Ash, who lost an arm when it became inconvenient).

Perhaps one reason why Evil Dead Rise lacks the full-throttle energy of Raimi’s contributions can be attributed to how the horror genre has evolved since 1987 (when Evil Dead II was released). Things that were unique when Raimi put them on screen have since been copied, re-copied, and refined. The early Evil Dead movies were many things, but few people would call them “generic.” Nevertheless, there’s a familiar quality about aspects of Evil Dead Rise. Although it’s always gruesome and sometimes darkly humorous, it’s never especially scary. Serious horror movies in the 2020s find their niches by going in demented directions either in terms of taboo-challenging narratives or by using spooky camera placement and set design. Evil Dead Rise offers neither. Fans of the series should, for the most part, be content with the result (although the absence of Ash creates an unfillable void). Younger viewers or those new to the genre may wonder what’s special about this film. The answer: nothing. This is yet another victory for nostalgia over originality.

Evil Dead Rise (United States/New Zealand, 2023)

Director: Lee Cronin
Cast: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, Nell Fisher
Screenplay: Lee Cronin
Cinematography: Dave Garbett
Music: Stephen McKeon
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:39
U.S. Release Date: 2023-04-21
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1