'Evil Dead Rise' Reanimates the Franchise with Gory Glory

Directed by Lee Cronin

Starring Alyssa Sutherland, Lily Sullivan, Nell Fisher, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

BY Alisha MughalPublished Apr 21, 2023

Folk horror has always had its thorny roots turning and winding around the sharp fear that ancient beliefs are, actually, well-founded. What if our ancestors were rightfully afraid of the primordial, oily darkness bewitching the woods? Sam Raimi's riotous Evil Dead franchise has, since 1978, been literally raining bloody terror as it breathes this fear to life. And now, compounding this fear is the Lee Cronin-directed and written Evil Dead Rise, which is a sensational addition to Raimi's world-building, upping the ante on a cherished tale by placing the classic Sumerian text, Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, within a crumbling modernity and having it beleaguer perhaps one of the most precious, if aching, families ever depicted in horror. 

Evil Dead Rise carries the franchise's torch brilliantly. It honours and reanimates Raimi's ingenuity from the original Evil Dead, while understanding its place within not only the franchise but also the genre. Cronin's film offers up something that is uniquely its own: a bleeding heart celebrating not merely love, but humanity itself.

Produced by Raimi and final-girl extraordinaire Bruce Campbell, the film takes place over the course of a single night and, briefly, the morning after. Alyssa Sutherland is Ellie, a mother living in an old building that used to house a bank in the '20s with her three kids: teens Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Danny (Morgan Davies), and the young Kassie (Nell Fisher).

Ellie has a lot on her plate as she works to move her family out of their condemned building: she is still in emotional ruin because her husband left her and the kids mere months earlier. As Ellie is packing up their life, her younger sister and musical engineer Beth (Lily Sullivan) arrives unannounced, seeking Ellie's advice.

It's into this raw family dynamic that the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis's hungry demons are unleashed. When an earthquake unearths a vault beneath the building's parking lot containing the book of the dead and vinyl recordings of a monk reciting its damned text, Danny takes them up to the apartment, whereupon all hell breaks loose. Snaking through the city surrounding the building, carried upon thunderous winds, demons come for Ellie and her family

Cronin and director of photography Dave Garbett's lens is as roving and kinetic as Raimi's was in 1978's Evil Dead, moving from the snapping crunch of a murky forest to within the cramped quarters of a decaying building with deftness. Where Raimi worked to turn the vastness of a forest menacingly claustrophobic, Cronin and Garbett simultaneously make Ellie's apartment feel vastly labyrinthine and cramped. Through economical use of split diopter shots and grimy lighting, the apartment in which Beth, Ellie and her kids increasingly lose their sense of self — not to mention copious amounts of blood — is never once taken for granted. Every shadow and hallway hides potential horrors like the towering shafts of a desecrated cathedral. 

In some of the film's most cunning shots, we watch from the points of view of first Beth and then little Kassie, who themselves watch events unfold through the bloated fishbowl of the front door's peephole. In its nimble and precise use of space, Cronin gestures toward and honours one of folk horror's most captivating and dire understandings: the buildings we erect are inevitably and invariably a part of the land upon which they stand. 

Cronin and Garbett's lens is feral and frenetic as all folk horror lenses are. Understanding and expertly grasping the genre within which they work, they pay careful homage to those who came before them  and worthily carry on the genre's and franchise's legacy. Cronin never seems to want to one-up the previous Evil Dead films; rather, he seems to rollick in the same gore the rest of the franchise did.

It's not only through the cinematography that Cronin winks at horror greats. The Evil Dead franchise has grown to embrace and lean into its campy aspects, becoming unapologetically absurd, joyously relishing in the humour attendant to body horror. There's a sense of uncanny absurdity in the creative ways bodies are dismembered that we need to laugh so as to release the grisly tension. This is something that Cronin certainly understands, evidenced by the moments of dialogical and physical humour punctuating the film, serving as gulps of fresh air. 

Ultimately, Cronin's Evil Dead Rise, through its trenchant throwbacks, shows an immense love and respect for its roots. A warm humanity throbs and thrives within this movie, carried by the endlessly lovable characters and their adept portrayals. 

Within moments of being introduced to the family, we fall helplessly in love with them, and it is our love for them that makes the horrors of this film doubly horrific. It is the protagonists' warmth that has us in turn wince and tear up as their bodies are endangered. Because the gore squelches and perfectly oozes crimson, it is through a kind of negative exposure that this film celebrates humanity.

But even more than all of that, Evil Dead Rise is, ultimately and unpretentiously, a damn good time.
(Warner Bros.)

Latest Coverage