The Plot: Following a break-up, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) cares for her three children Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and the youngest, Cassie (Nell Fisher) in their dingy city apartment. Her estranged sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) has issues of her own and promptly brings them to Ellie’s door. During an earthquake, an old bank vault is discovered which contains a flesh-bound book and strange incantations from an old record. Not knowing any better, Danny becomes obsessed with the book and plays the record. Bad idea. The Book Of The Dead unleashes hell on Earth upon this fractured family, starting with Ellie…
The Verdict: There are horror movies, the kind of average ones that don’t push boundaries and play it safe with a diet-horror approach. Then there are The Evil Dead movies, which go much further and deeper into the darkness and beyond. The audience is along for this express elevator ride to hell, with no safety brake or quick cop-out to relieve the tension. The ultimate experience in gruelling horror, as the tagline for Sam Raimi’s landmark original put it. This is something which Irish director Lee Cronin no doubt understood when taking on the next film in the series. Evil Dead Rise is the result of a blood pact between Cronin and the original unholy trinity of Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and the much-loved, self-confessed B-movie actor Bruce Campbell to scare the living daylights out of audiences once again.
It’s been a decade since Fede Alvarez’s OK-ish remake Evil Dead, so it was time to resurrect the deadites once more. It helps that Cronin has a passion for horror, having made an impressive debut in 2019 with his atmospheric homegrown horror The Hole In The Ground. Taking on Evil Dead Rise must ostensibly have resulted in difficult second album syndrome, but if there was pressure to perform both for the unholy trinity and deliver for blood-baying Evil Dead fans then he doesn’t show it. His script is reverential to begin with, starting with a respectful nod to the series’ grungy, low-budget origins and then one of the year’s best title reveals. After that, he builds up his story of two estranged sisters who don’t have time to deal with their personal issues as a flesh-possessing demons wreak havoc on their apartment block. There’s some real meat to these bones, driving the narrative propulsively forward at all times and keeping the audience in sweaty suspense.
It’s hard to believe that at one point this film might have gone straight to streaming. It’s built from the ground up to be a shared theatrical experience with a large and enthusiastic crowd, just like the other Evil Dead films. It’s relentless right through to the closing shot – an experience in the best horror tradition. Cronin goes full-throttle here with barrels of blood (6,500 litres!), industrial-strength gore and contortionist-style physical performances in which most of the cast get jiggy with the demon. This is mostly confined to the surroundings of an apartment, in which all manner of kitchen utensils become weapons against the deadites – you’ll never look at a cheese grater the same way again. In that sense, it follows the series template in keeping its shocks grounded within an identifiable place and then turning the heat up on its characters.
It works so effectively because Cronin keeps it rattling along without making any concessions for those of, shall we say, a nervous disposition. This is one intense beast of a film. One has to wonder for the safety of 10-year-old Kiwi actress Nell Fisher, who gets put through the ringer but comes out as strong as the adult actors. Maybe her parents are Evil Dead fans. It also strikes out on its own without the fear factor of nervously treading on Ash’s feet (a noticeable fault with the 2013 remake) or getting too tied up in planting easter eggs (though, the nod to Stanley Kubrick is appreciated). There’s a wicked and twisted sense of humour at play too, playing to Cronin’s strength as a writer in landing jokes at the right moment and encouraging laughs at the excess. Nothing exceeds like excess, as Elvira noted in Scarface. Cronin would no doubt agree as he likewise boots up the chainsaw and hacks and slashes away for an X certificate. Evil Dead and other horror fans should raise their chainsaws and boomsticks in salute to this super groovy new kid on the chopping block.
Rating: 4 / 5
In short: Super groovy
Directed by Lee Cronin.
Starring Alyssa Sutherland, Lily Sullivan, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher.