Evil Dead Rise and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Lee Cronin
Not to toot my own horn but I’m of the last generation to actually rent movies from video stores, and while I never had a cool indie place to find obscure classics, my local Blockbuster had a decent collection that included the first Evil Dead movie. Needless to say that taking it home without any understanding of what I was getting myself into turned out to be a formative experience and I’ve had a soft spot for the franchise ever since. Still, we’re over forty years removed from that first movie, and with sequels, remakes, video games, and even that TV show from a few years ago, it’s fair to say that you’ll need to do something quite different to crawl out from under the shadow of the original trilogy. Can this latest take on the material hope to fill those massive shoes, or has it long since run its course, and are we left with the undead facsimile of what we once loved? Let’s find out!!
Unlike the previous films which kept the action to either a cabin in the woods or a medieval kingdom, our story begins in the city of Los Angeles where Beth (Lily Sullivan) visits her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her three kids, Danny, Bridget, and Kassie (Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, and Nell Fisher) who are trying to make ends meet despite being kicked out of their apartment building in the coming days. Fortune seems to favor this family however as an earthquake hits that rips open a secret bank vault beneath the building and Danny goes in to find a mysterious old book and some old records that they may be able to sell for a few bucks. I mean if he had a chance to get it on eBay I’m sure he’d make a mint given how obsessive Evil Dead fans are, but sadly the book has other plans as the record contains the ancient incantation to summon the Deadites which finds a nice comfy home in Ellie and starts making things awkward for everyone. Can this family survive the night and escape the clutches of this rampaging Deadite? Does the book contain any clues on how to stop this, and are there chapters within it that we’ve never seen before? Is anyone else a little perplexed at how much of a downer this seems like? I don’t know; maybe there was a reason these movies were more about Ash than the lore?
Be warned, everyone. I came away from this movie with a viscerally negative reaction and after a few days to think about it my feelings haven’t dulled significantly. I’ve seen all four Evil Dead movies that preceded this one and I would recommend any of them over this; even the remake which may not have been perfect but is far better continuation of the franchise’s legacy than what we get here. I can’t deny that a certain amount of my disdain for this movie comes from being a fan of the other films and how this one tragically misses the point, but even on its own merits as a horror movie outside of the series it’s ostensibly a part of, I still don’t think it’s all that worthwhile. Solidly executed with a game cast? Sure, I’ll concede that this has some technical bonafides behind it and for an audience that is looking for its particular brand of horror it’ll no doubt be a satisfying experience. For me, though, I found little to enjoy in its tedious bloodletting and wanton cruelty. Putting aside the other films for the moment, I am simply unable to muster enthusiasm for the particular stripe of mean spirited horror that this film subscribes to. Elevated Horror, which is admittedly a broad term as it encompasses movies I love like The Witch and ones I loathe like Hereditary, seems like a poor framework for such arch and exaggerated demonology that’s the backbone of Evil Dead’s aesthetic. It’s intentionally gratuitous and stylized, yet the movie it finds itself in wants to be taken as darkly serious as possible with lingering shots of pain and suffering that, on a strict level, conform to the traditions of the franchise but are missing what made it stand out in the first place. Where those movies found a way to become classics of the genre and where this one seriously missteps is that they undercut the darkness with comedy. Sure, some movies emphasized the goofiness more than others, and this isn’t without any jokes whatsoever, but what the comedic approach did was allow for excessively horrific scenarios to play out mostly straight without tipping over into sadism. What comedy is there just doesn’t do much to alleviate the situations and frankly it feels stitched on as almost every single joke is a reference to a joke we already saw in the previous films. Again, I’m not saying that there’s no audience for this kind of deeply unsettling and boundary pushing horror, but the movie pushed past my threshold fairly early on and no matter how much it tried to outdo itself or shock me further, it couldn’t get a rise out of me and I spent most of my time with this utterly detached from the story.
The Evil Dead films delighted in a lot of things. Excessive gore, slapstick comedy, even a few sappy moments of loss and despair, but I don’t think the films ever outright delighted in cruelty. I don’t want to be one of those fanboys that feels that they have the right to dictate what a creative team can and cannot do with the material they’re working on, but in this case, I just had a lot of trouble enjoying this movie on its own terms and then trying to fit it in with what I consider to be an Evil Dead movie. It’s hitting a few of the notes and adding its own spin on things, but the end product felt like the worst kind of remake where they sand off the unique edges to try and fit it into a different box. I wouldn’t recommend it for most people as this is a pretty difficult sit all things considered, and while I think Evil Dead fans are more likely to enjoy it than general audiences would, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m the only one who isn’t comfortable with the direction that it’s going in.