Picture going to your favorite local restaurant in the world. You’re such a frequent patron; the owner, the servers, and the bartenders know you on a first-name basis. It’s to the point where you don’t need a menu – they know the meal choice and how well the meat is cooked verbatim. This is precisely the approach writer/director Lee Cronin takes with Evil Dead Rise, an adjacent spiritual film to Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake of the original. It relishes its brutality, indulges in its enjoyable absurdity, and provides a gateway to previously established lore that could be considered for future stories.
Previous installments of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead occurred in the obscurity of a cabin tucked away in the woods. With Rise, the setting shifts to a high-rise building in a big city – giving energy to new setpieces and souls for the Deadites to ravage. While there may have been brief exposition in previous installments bringing you into this world, Cronin’s short prologue hits you like a blunt object. He allows the mood to drive the film for the most part.
Within the main story, there are two sisters. Beth (Lily Sullivan) recently finds out she’s pregnant and decides to visit her older sibling Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), at her apartment in Los Angeles. Ellie has three kids, Danny, who is an aspiring DJ (Morgan Davies); Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), a teen that’s passionate about social causes; and the youngest and inquisitive Kassie (Nell Fisher). Ellie is trying to keep the household together as she and her spouse have separated. Never mind the added element of both sisters having some emotional distance from one other.
You would be sadly mistaken if you think Rise will result in some feel-good family-fixing therapy. Before anyone gets settled, an earthquake provides a passage Danny explores. Contained with a bunch of documents is the cursed Book of the Dead. His unfortunate curiosity welcomes the evil spirit to inhabit the body of Ellie, and everything goes downhill from there.
If there’s anything Cronin knows how to use, it’s limited space. Rise is contained mainly in one apartment, a long hallway, and an elevator – each has its unique flavor to provide. Director of photography Dave Garbett flips a lot of perception and light to conjure up eerie and maniacal imagery. Once the film begins at its breakneck, dark, and sometimes comedic pace, it rarely lets up. We’re talking cheese graters, tattoo needles, broken glass, gallons of blood, and chainsaws – anything that can be moved could be an object of uncanny violence. With Sutherland’s transformation being the centerpiece, there’s an extra sense of urgency – given there are only a few ways to exit.
The Deadites are creepy, quippy and meld in with the dark and dank feeling of the apartment. Given how young the cast is, the gore factor has a little extra uptick in squeamishness. You never get a chance to catch your breath – as the audience might feel as exhausted as the blood-drenched characters going to the subsequent trial. That pace benefits Evil Dead Rise, even if it does sacrifice fleshing out its main characters more thoroughly. It’s more the performances of Sullivan and the plight of a young sister needing advice more substance.
However, I bet she didn’t have “stay alive while fighting a shapeshifting demonic presence” on her bingo card. If you’re not familiar with the pantheon of Evil Dead media, Rise serves as an enjoyable entry point. At the same time, Evil Dead fans of old will appreciate the classic motifs used in previous installments, with Cronin putting his spin on it. This proper mix of old and new is why the franchise remains prominent as time passes.