Eric’s Review: Evil Dead Rise (2023)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Alyssa Sutherland has been possessed in Evil Dead Rise (2023)
★★★★ out of ★★★★★

🩸🩸🩸🩸🩸 out of 🩸🩸🩸🩸🩸 for constant pervasive gore, grotesque transformations, and severe violence against children

Directed by Lee Cronin

Of all the great horror movie franchises in the world today, few have had the consistency and power of The Evil Dead. Where other franchises have over-extended themselves through sequels and reboots, the legacy of this series of films has been largely unimpeachable. Starting with Sam Raimi’s micro-budget debut with The Evil Dead in 1981, through to the more comedic (yet still grotesque) Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and Army of Darkness, and a high-quality reboot by Fede Alvarez in 2013, and the splatter-tastic TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead, the track record for quality has remained.

So, no pressure for Evil Dead Rise, right?

Fear not, Evil Dead fans. Or… perhaps fear a plenty. Simply put, this latest outing NAILED IT. All the elements that you want and expect are here. It is outrageously violent, stylish, and provides a roster of protagonists who you can root for. (And some cannon fodder.) One of the strong suits of the series is that it has an unrelenting pace, and gets to the entertaining bits quickly and often.

The film opens with what will be a wrap-around scene, with the classic cabin (albeit a much nicer cabin) in the woods, where a trio of young adults is relaxing for a party. One of the girls at the cabin by the lake has been possessed, and things do not go well for the group. We are off to the races! The party at the lake has been essentially wiped out, and the film flashes back, to one day prior, where the real story lies.

Beth, (Lily Sullivan) a rock band road-show guitar technician has found out she is pregnant and is taking a break from the tour to consult with her estranged sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), since Ellie is a mother of three, and may be able to guide her through what to do next. Ellie, however, is exasperated, and on the verge of being forced out of a decaying apartment building that is going to be condemned. Her children, the curious DJ wanna-be Danny (Morgan Davies), the responsible Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and the imaginative little Kassie (Nell Fisher) are an appealing group, and they love their mom and auntie.

An earthquake rocks the neighborhood, knocking out the power to the apartment building, but more importantly, it reveals the hiding spot of some artifacts buried in a cloister under the parking garage of their building. Danny cannot resist inspecting the hidden chamber, and he retrieves a couple of vinyl recordings (his DJ impulses can’t resist) and a leathery book with what appears to be a series of fangs holding it together. Sound familiar?

Danny, in classic Evil Dead fashion, holes up in his bedroom, manages to open the book and plays the records, not heeding the ominous recording and imagery. Cue the Demon Motorcycle! Bridget discovers what Danny has been doing, recognizes the potential danger, and instructs him to put the book and records back where he found them. This is, of course, a demonic summoning ritual, and it is too late. The ritual has begun and cannot be undone. Ellie gets possessed by the demon while taking the elevator down to do laundry. This is officially game-on at this point. Momma returns upstairs, weakened, sick, and immediately beginning to turn. After vomiting up copious amounts of a whitish liquid, she apparently dies.

Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher, Lily Sullivan, Morgan Davies, and Alyssa Sullivan in Evil Dead Rise (2023)

But we know better. We have seen this before. The bulk of the movie is about a demonic Ellie rising from the dead and attempting to kill and merge with her children so that they can all become one big happy family. Beth rallies the kids, and they manage to force Ellie out into the corridor, leaving the remaining floor tenants to her wrath. Non-stop violence, gore, and horrific transformations ensue… all the way to the big finale, and the conclusion of the wrap-around story (which is quite easy to forget given the mind-blowing action of the main story.)

For those of you who love The Evil Dead, you will likely really enjoy this outing. The movie does not go to the slapstick comedy of the Raimi-Campbell features, as it skews more closely to the Alvarez meaner take on the franchise. Interestingly, they do not refer to the book as the Necronomicon. (Not sure why). But, there are a number of callbacks to remind you this is an Evil Dead movie. There is a flying eyeball gag. There is a “Dead by Dawn” quote. And interestingly, a direct homage to The Shining, with an elevator filled with blood. It looks absolutely terrific, as the apartment building has a character all its own. This film was shot in Aukland, New Zealand, which lends a very slight exotic flavor to the proceedings.

Unlike many of the other Evil Dead films, this is not a protagonist showcase so much as it is a platform for Alyssa Sutherland, as the possessed mom. Sutherland is a former model. Tall, leggy, with a wide smile and big expressive eyes, she is a stunning beauty. Interestingly, the features that lend her that beauty also are so exaggerated that her demonic aspect is equally stunning and memorable. Sutherland loses herself in this role, in the best way possible, showing depth to her acting prowess. Always menacing, she contributes a gamut of emotions from wicked glee to abject sadness, and robotic twitchiness. She is a villain for the ages and the best central villain in any of the franchise features.

The children, all New Zealand relative newcomers, do a fantastic job as well. Big props to Nell Fisher, as a young actress being subjected to some really horrifying material. It is with this film that I realize the shifting boundary of what is cinematically acceptable within an R-Rating. It used to be that direct violence on children is a rating breaker. No longer, apparently. These kids are subjected to some truly nasty moments, and it makes me wonder if any of them have actually seen the final cut of the film. (I actually hope not… there are scarred-for-life moments if you were the performers in this, even if they had a body double for the prosthetic gore.)

Lily Sullivan is a capable lead, but she is overshadowed by the showiness of the other characters. In the end, I don’t think people will remember Beth in the same way that fans embraced Ash Williams. It’s not a bad performance, it’s just that in a franchise that embraced a quippy and goofy slapstick hero now goes to a fairly straight-laced tough girl.

Lily Sullivan in Evil Dead Rise (2023)

The gore in this film is extreme. The context is fantastical, but if you have a weak spot for gore, do not see this film. It is REALLY rough. The gruesome scenes however are completely over-the-top, so that can help you get through it, however since a lot of the violence is from characters inflicting it upon people that they love, it proves poignant. That said, I was able to get through this, and in a packed theater this is quite the experience. The audible cheers, groans, and gasps of the in-theater audience came easily. Be ready to make involuntary noises. You won’t be able to stop yourself.

As fun as it is, this movie still treads through familiar territory. The film has been reconstructed in an urban context, and the story shifts from the historic precedence of a group of young adults in a cabin in the woods to a core family. And yet, you can see the skeleton of the Evil Dead easily peeking through its ghoulish skin. And for a franchise, I think that’s perfectly fine. In the same way that the Hulu Hellraiser and Prey films successfully parlayed the themes within a new context, Evil Dead Rise manages to root itself to the main themes while delivering a shiny new model. And, given the tendency to do awful reboots and sequels, this movie has really succeeded in having its cake and eating it too.

Evil Dead Rise debuted at SXSW, and also played to huge crowds at Overlook. This Warner Brothers Production is going to be widely released on April 21, 2023. It is rated R, pushing the boundaries of NC-17, with a violence quotient similar to that of the 2013 Evil Dead. Perhaps because there is no sex or nudity in it, the censors decided that audiences can handle the wave of violence and gore in this film.

Review by Eric Li
Categories: Festivals, ReviewsTags: , , , , , , , ,

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