The “Evil Dead” franchise has a reputation that precedes it. Blood oozing, guts being laid bare, unspeakable cruelties—these movies, a set of five that span back as far as 1981, have it all when it comes to everything a diehard horror fan might want.
The first three installments are known for the comedic elements alongside the terror, but in 2013 Fede Alvarez’ “Evil Dead” ushered in a new era for the franchise that changed the look and feel. The modernization took everything fans adore about the series to the next level: the gore, the brutality, and the heroic perseverance of a new central character. Ten years later, writer-director Lee Cronin’s sequel, “Evil Dead Rise,” has finally come home to roost and, man, is this new take on the franchise one bloody and barbaric good time.
The film follows Lily Sullivan’s Beth, a guitar tech visiting her estranged sister, Ellie, on a break from the road. Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland, “New Gold Mountain”) is a mother of three whose husband recently left the picture, leaving the family to struggle in their quaint yet crappy Los Angeles apartment. After an earthquake shakes the foundations of the family’s building a strange book is discovered — and the evil it contains threatens to tear them all apart, literally and figuratively.
When you go into an “Evil Dead” film at this point you know what to expect when it comes to the tone and pacing, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. The film slowly ramps things up, keeping us in utter suspense while we wait for one of these new characters to really screw up and read some messed up Latin out of the Necronomicon.
Props are in order for Cronin’s new story, as he takes a different approach to how we’re used to this inciting incident going. Not only is it eerie and effective, it also plays into the identity and interests of Ellie’s only son, Danny (a great, passionate turn from Morgan Davies). The movie’s pacing, which as things get worse and worse continues to speed up and barrel out of control, is very in-line with the intensity of previous films.
But the tensions don’t stop there. In fact, the film’s central performances push the overwhelming sense of anxiety and dread to new heights with their pure, brutal strength. Sutherland is vile, unsettling, and completely off the rails as matriarch Ellie, the beast within her determined to co-opt the mother’s every last breath for unspeakable evil. There’s no two ways about it: Sutherland is transcendent in this role, more than convincing with Ellie’s kind and soft parenting as much as the dedication to her character’s horrific demise into something worse than death itself.
The perversion of motherhood is strong in this film, and it delights in that cruelty, much like the friends of Bruce Campbell’s Ash delighted in his torture in the original. Sullivan is a fierce and fiery match for Sutherland, shedding her sense of independence and shifting into her own version of a mother as she finds herself faced with ensuring her nieces and nephew’s survival. The actress uses her character’s grittier, rebellious archetype to her advantage and ups the ante with an inventiveness throughout the film’s events that is as much born of the script as it is Sullivan’s performance.
Not to be forgotten, the kids deserve a spotlight unto themselves. Gabrielle Echols particularly stuns as Gabrielle, Ellie’s eldest daughter, as she becomes irreparably entangled in the mess thrust upon her family. The youngest daughter, Nell Fisher’s Kassie, also does a ton of heavy-lifting with her skilled performance and sweet naivety. As a child actor, she is one to watch.
Davies is soft and kind as the family’s eldest brother, but also inquisitive to a fault in a way that rings so true of teenagers and how they interact with new things that intrigue them. All three of these young actors have a bright future ahead of them in film and it would be great to see them in more raucous and unpredictable horror in the future.
As for the blood and guts, this “Evil Dead” installment follows in the footsteps of its 2013 predecessor with great and seemingly never-ending gore. The lengths these characters go to make it out alive will do every previous film in this franchise proud and, further still, every tactic these new deadites employ to cause mayhem and destruction is as harrowing and nauseatingly terrifying as the series’ best moments. To go into detail about one big set piece would deprive the audience of the intensity of the moment, but this film will have you hiding your kitchen’s cheese grater, or, better yet, getting rid of it entirely.
At times “Evil Dead Rise” doesn’t entirely live up to the 2013 reboot — if only because of the pure shock and awe of how far they were willing to take the reimagining into new and bloodsoaked heights. A few cheesy lines end up distracting and taking you out of the film for a few moments, but it is quick to draw you back in.
All in all, the movie is a complete blast, one that will satisfy hardcore fans of the franchise, new folks joining the fun for the first time, and those who are looking for the series to start turning in new directions. Cronin’s installment opens up a Pandora’s Box of ideas for what this concept can be morphed and molded into in the future and questions which of the series’ conventions can be repurposed and reinvented for a new age of stories.
The future of the “Evil Dead” franchise is so bright with the release of “Evil Dead Rise,” so bright indeed— and boldly, beautifully covered in the blood of everyone we may hold dear. “Evil Dead Rise” doesn’t shy away from what makes the franchise so great: rivers of blood, unrelenting evil wearing familiar faces, and ingenious weaponry in the standing off against the demonic unknown.