Movie Review: Evil Dead Rise

When it comes to making the new part of an iconic franchise, it’s hard to come up with something that fits without just remaking the original.

Finding a balance between tonal consistency and originality in franchised stories is a tough trick to pull off, as so many horror movies in recent years have proved: either they’re so divorced from the franchise as to feel like a separate entity, or they’re so worshipful of the original that they fail to strike out into any remotely new ground. And, coming in to Evil Dead Rise, that was exactly what I was interested in seeing. As the fifth part of the iconic Evil Dead franchise, it didn’t have the sagging weight of a dozen or so sequels to deal with like some other recent franchise entries have, but it had to capture the feel of an Evil Dead film without just playing the proverbial hits.

And, honestly, I think that’s what writer and director Lee Cronin manages to pull off with impressive aplomb. It’s clear that Cronin (whose excellent debut, The Hole in the Ground, is well worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it) understands what makes an Evil Dead film feel like a part of this series, and he’s able to take those aspects and apply them to a new setting and fresh characters.

What really sets Evil Dead Rise apart from the rest of the series, I think, is the radically different setting. Evil Dead’s cabin in the woods is perhaps one of the most iconic settings in horror history; aside from Camp Crystal Lake, when it comes to rural horror, that’s the last place you want to be taking a weekend trip to. Shifting the action into an old apartment block in Los Angeles runs the risk of making everything feel to avoidable – it’s not remote, it’s not distant, it’s not even deserted. The apartment block is full of people, in a packed-out city, but Cronin manages to make it feel completely oppressive in a way that instantly conjures the feel of Evil Dead’s original cabin. With crumbling stairs, peephole kills, and a blood-soaked elevator, Cronin somehow makes this place feel just as helplessly remote as a shack in the middle of nowhere.

The sheer brutality of the movie is also an Evil Dead standard, not just the extremity of the violence (though, if that’s something you enjoy about the films, it’s certainly here), but in how relentless and unfair the violence is. With the story revolving around a family, there’s a sense at the start of the film of the familial bonds conquering all, but that notion is pretty quickly fed into a woodchipper. The tight ninety-minute runtime really makes you feel like you’re not getting a second to catch your breath, and the setpieces are consistently excellent – Alyssa Sutherland as mum Ellie turns out a killer (heh) villain performance, committed to the bit and utterly chilling in her grotesquerie. That twisted sense of humour, especially in a fun referential bookend, keeps it from feeling too po-faced, but it doesn’t fall into the drudgingly self-aware humour of some recent horror sequels.

The iconography of Evil Dead is here – the Necromonicon, the chainsaw – but it’s set against a different backdrop and different characters in a way that makes it feel genuinely fresh. Cronin’s respect for and love of the series is written all over Evil Dead Rise, and he’s managed to make a movie that is distinctly an Evil Dead film without just being a rehash of Evil Dead.

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By Lou MacGregor

(header image via Empire)

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