There are certain tropes we’ve come to expect from Evil Dead. Compared to other horror franchises, though, it’s had an unpredictable trajectory. Since the 1981 original, we’ve gotten a sequel/remake, a medieval horror fantasy, a re-imagining that doubled down on the bloodshed, and a TV series that doubled down on the comedy. The opening scene of Evil Dead Rise seems like a return to the basics as a cabin vacation doesn’t go as planned. While the film doesn’t shift gears going forward, it does shift settings to urban L.A. Just as New York provided a refreshing backdrop for Scream VI, Evil Dead Rise benefits from its change of scenery.
Much of the film takes place in the apartment of Alyssa Sutherland’s Ellie. After her husband leaves, Ellie is left to raise her three children, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies), and Kassie (Nell Fisher). Their evening takes one of many unexpected turns with the arrival of Ellie’s sister Beth (Lily Sullivan), a groupie attempting to get her life together. The actors share such a natural connection in these early scenes that you wouldn’t mind if this was a more traditional family drama. Of course, the audience paid for mayhem and it isn’t long until all hell rises.
After an earthquake (or perhaps demonic intervention), Danny uncovers a book that you can definitely judge by its demented cover. How exactly did the Necronomicon get from the woods to the city? It’s never explained, but it’s not integral to the story. Naturally, Danny brings the book into the apartment, inadvertently inviting evil inside. The characters in these movies might not be getting much smarter, but writer/director Lee Cronin delivers one of the franchise’s most ingenious kills. Evil Dead Rise will have you wincing in all the right ways, applauding the creativity of the gore while also being gleefully grossed out. Every cringe comes with a smile.
Although not as slapstick-heavy as Sam Raimi’s efforts, Evil Dead Rise isn’t without comedy. Most of the laughs derive from just how verbally cruel the demons are. It’s like listening to an insult comic who’s trying to horrifically murder you. It’s the blend of horror and humor that’s helped this series to stand out over the past 40 years. What sets this entry apart is the strength of its ensemble. Bruce Campbell’s Ash did most of the heavy lifting in the original trilogy and outside of Jane Levy’s Mia, the 2010 film didn’t give us many characters to root for. You come to like every member of this film’s family, leaving you conflicted as they endure evil’s wrath.
That said, Evil Dead Rise doesn’t come off as mean-spirited. It’s all in good (bloody) fun, and you sense that the actors are having a good time behind their screams. Cronin injects the story with more heart than anticipated without going overly sentimental. At times, it almost possesses flashes of The Shining, even paying homage to the iconic elevator scene. Cronin also draws inspiration from the series’ roots with a chainsaw playing a pivotal role. On the whole, though, Evil Dead Rise stands on its own with a new claustrophobic environment, empathetic characters, and deaths so inventive that you’ll want to shake Cronin’s hand… and then wash yours.