Evil Dead Rise opens in theaters on April 21.
Writing and directing a sequel to a beloved horror franchise is no cakewalk, despite how easy Lee Cronin makes it look with Evil Dead Rise. His continuation of the iconic series about Deadites and boomsticks is as vicious as Fede Alvarez’s stupendously malevolent 2013 remake/sequel, opens the door for future entries to explore the lore in exciting ways, and owns its place in the series as a standalone horror bombshell. Cronin’s ability to make signature Evil Dead staples his own (like the whooshy “Demon Vision” camera zooms made famous by Raimi) makes Rise its own three-headed beast. It’s aggressively scary, it’s sickly hilarious, and it’s a stone-cold killer.
Rise finds a comfortable middle ground between 2013’s rip-your-heart-out Evil Dead and Sam Raimi’s more humorous trilogy of sequels. Cronin’s special effects team challenges the whole series’ nastiest mutilation scenes with gnarly practical effects as swallowed glass protrudes from bodies or elevators gush waves of blood. Rise somehow keeps up with Fede Alvarez’s reported 70,000 gallons of blood used in 2013’s Evil Dead while keying into a more heartfelt, yet still traumatic battle against Deadites that reclaims some of Raimi’s comedy chops, and uses that dark humor to contrast the darkest plunges.
Alyssa Sutherland maniacally teases victims as single mother Ellie, our new patient zero Deadite. After her brilliant transformation into this hellish, screeching vessel of evil, she manipulates her motherly playtime voice as a sick trick to mock whatever flickers of her soul still exist. Sutherland spews a handful of funny-yet-freaky lines like “Mommy’s with the maggots now!” that hit even harder when chased by a nightmarish rotten smile. She puts on a Deadite acting showcase by enduring squeam-inducing body horror while cackling madly around discarded corpses.
Rise isn’t as comedy-forward as Evil Dead II, though, and the setup is genuinely unsettling. Cronin’s newly introduced Necronomicon, which is latched by jagged teeth like a venus fly trap, unleashes the same merciless Deadite obscenities on Ellie’s three children and her visiting sister Beth. Neighbors stuck on the same floor as Ellie’s apartment add themselves as body count fodder to keep the slayings plentiful, but it’s her family who withstands the most physical, psychological, and surreal attacks that gorily weaponize everything from cheese graters to sharpened staffs with baby doll heads crafted by littlest daughters (“Staffanie” will be a fan-favorite prop). Lily Sullivan plays Beth as a strong hero to Ellie’s Deadite villain, and together with Morgan Davies as DJ-in-training Danny, Gabrielle Echols as free-spirited protestor Bridget, and Nell Fisher as teeny-tiny Kassie they endure trials with performances that bravely meet any moment: pure fear, familial loss, and wherever the story veers.
Cronin doesn’t lose any of the ruthless Necronomicon action by leaving isolated woodland settings for a cluttered Los Angeles apartment complex. Much like how Scream VI uses New York City as a fresh metropolitan backdrop for familiar Ghostface assaults, Rise translates signature Deadite brutality to the claustrophobic confines of a boxy rental with just a few rooms. Instead of roads or bridges becoming unusable, the damaged building becomes a death trap of crumbled stairwells, broken elevators, and exposed wires that look like tree vines – that’s clearly a nod at a recognizable possession from Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Evil Dead (2013). Cronin’s clever and precise about the ways he honors imagery from prior films without outright replication, as he dominates the challenge of problem-solving how the Necronomicon’s demonic curse would wreak havoc in a more populated location.
As a standalone horror movie, Rise brings the thunder with an array of depraved Deadite extremes that ensure no scene allows us to catch our breath. When Ellie’s inside her apartment, she’s crawling out of vents with homage paid to the Hereditary wall scare or bounding around the apartment giddily trying to slaughter her loved ones. When she’s locked outside, we watch through the front door’s peephole as the possessed mamma dispatches floormates like she’s out for a Tuesday stroll. Cronin keeps the pedal pressed hard as bodies eject all sorts of colored fluids or gallons upon gallons of blood pour from fresh wounds, all while Ellie does the Necronomicon’s bidding with a joyful skip in her step. Rise hardly relents as the ferocity of unspeakable violence only becomes gorier and more graphic – and that’s even before Cronin throttles into a third act that births a brand-new canon “final boss” that highlights the morbid imagination this franchise encourages.
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When Rise stumbles it’s with minor storytelling choices, like introducing Beth as an expecting mother (Cronin borrows some moody motherhood tension from his first film, The Hole in the Ground) and religious symbolism that tees up this new Necronomicon. It’s not that either aspect fails, but both feel underserved once the familiar Evil Deadiness kicks into gear and heads start rolling.
Those unserious dings aside, Rise delivers everything Evil Dead fans will want and more. Cronin tosses in plenty of Easter eggs on pizza boxes and tree-cutter vans parked in garages as tokens to those who worship Ash Williams, but does his best to veer Rise away from being “just another Evil Dead,” with minimal hiccups. What you expect from an Evil Dead movie is delivered through chewed-up carnage, spit-out flesh chunks, and demonic excess that pushes the franchise forward with an attitude of reinvention for future decades of creative Evil Dead supremacy.