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Evil Dead Rise (18)
Director: Lee Cronin
Screenplay: Lee Cronin
Starring: Mirabai Pease, Richard Crouchley, Anna-Maree Thomas
Review: David Stephens
The “Evil Dead” franchise is probably one of the most consistent and beloved brands in horror. Whereas the umpteen movies of Halloween and Texas Chainsaw have many weirdo entries and more timelines than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Evil Dead has the original trilogy, an excellent “requel” in 2013 for the fans of the dark-toned first film, and a three-season hi-jinks TV show for fans of Ash and splat-stick (Ash Vs. Evil Dead). The fact that Sam Raimi (and Bruce Campbell) has always been there as a producer if not a director probably points to the fact as to why these later projects still hit home with hardcore horror fans. Luckily Messrs Raimi and Campbell remain as executive producers on this latest cinematic entry. Originally meant to have been a streaming exclusive on “HBO Max” (Boo!), test screenings were allegedly so good that it earned itself a large theatrical release in the US and the UK (Yay!). Directed by Irish film writer and director Lee Cronin, who made the creepy The Hole in the Ground, this is now splattering up screens nationwide. So, let’s go get some!
After an effective opening prologue, and one of the best film title reveals for ages, we’re introduced to Beth (played by Lily Sullivan, who looks uncannily like Neve Campbell from 1st “Scream”-era in many shots). A guitar technician and wandering roadie, she’s about to make an important decision in her life and wants to connect with her estranged sister before she commits to it. The aforementioned sister Ellie (played very nicely by a totally game-for-it Alyssa Sutherland) is living with her three children of various ages, separated from her partner and facing eviction from the condemned LA apartment block where they currently reside. Ignorant of these bad times, Beth tries to reconnect with the family of four, but the sisterly bonding is interrupted by an earthquake which opens up a sealed bank vault in the bowels of the building. And guess what unearthly tome is residing within? Yup, it’s the (3rd edition) Naturom Demonto, otherwise known as the Necronomicon to its close friends. Better leave it alone then. Oops! Too late…
The hype has been building for EDR ever since test screenings and audiences sang its praises at this year’s SXSW festival. Truth be told, this is one of those films where the build-up may well play against it. The strong reaction to the trailers has also “bigged it up”. So, we’ll start with a few caveats to begin with. The plot beats of EDR pretty much repeat the narrative of Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Fede Álvarez’s “re-imagining”. Whilst the clever opening teases another cabin-in-the-woods opus and then subverts it, it really is another cabin-in-the-woods type plot but transplanted to suburbia. The basement is replaced by a parking lot, Professor Knowby’s tapes are replaced by a priest’s vinyl recordings, and the residents are trapped by earthquake damage rather than remoteness. How you react to the film will probably depend on whether you’re okay with a similar set-up.
We’re certainly not taking that approach negatively. In fact, it works well. It somewhat reinvigorates the concept, whilst “homaging” the hell out of past entries. The fresh setting, emphasis on broken family connections, and the willingness to call back to classic moments mean that it will please deadite aficionados, but also works as an entirely standalone genre experience. Having said that, if you’ve watched the previous movies, you can’t help but grin at recognisable dialogue such as: “Dead by dawn!”, “Come get some!”, “I’ll swallow your soul”, and more. Not to mention visual call-outs, such as the flying eyeball (from Evil Dead 2), a black-veined infection caused by a pointy tool (Evil Dead), and the infamous tree assault from the original with vines and branches being reimagined as electrical wiring in a lift.
That’s not to say that the film is derivative to an annoying degree though, just that it’s playing slightly to its core fan base. Fans of The Shining will also get a kick out of Cronin using more stage blood than Kubrick for a certain sequence. Other than that, this is pretty damned good. All kudos to the two female leads. Sutherland kills it as the Deadite Mom and throws herself into the physical aspects with extraordinary gusto. Sullivan is also excellent, and whilst she is the film’s “Proto-Ash”, she actually becomes more akin to Ripley in Aliens in the final act, whilst covered head to toe in blood. A special callout to eleven-year-old actor Nell Fisher who plays Ellie’s daughter Kassie. It’s quite an extraordinarily mature performance, comparable with Lulu Wilson’s excellent turns in Ouija: Origin of Evil and Annabelle: Creation and will hopefully put her on a path to great things.
We don’t often talk about audio in horror films, but we’re going to point out the fantastic audio editing in EDR. Demonic whispers and the buzzing of flies surrounds the screen (assuming you see this in a cinema with a decent sound system), with creaks and sighs bolstering the activity on the screen. Not only that but silence on the soundtrack is also used well, mostly before something bad happens, even if it’s not a stereotypical jump-scare. Anyway, blood. Lots of it. Doesn’t skimp. In interviews, Cronin stated that 1,720 gallons of fake blood were used during the filming, and it shows. Whilst the red stuff is splashed around to a ludicrous degree, the film isn’t afraid to go for the “ick” factor and use things to get under your skin. Often literally. The “cheese grater” moment has already become infamous. There’s also a copious amount of vomiting, graphic stabbings, limb lopping, and so on. The creepiness is amped up and you’ll never see as many malignant side-eyes as you do here. It remains a substantial pleasure to see full-on studio horror like this at the multiplexes again.
Pleasingly, the bulk of the FX comes from practical sources, with barely a glimpse of shiny CGI viscera and gravity-defying red pixels. It’s another example of why this is likely to hit the right buttons with existing fans. But it remains to be seen if sticks the target with the casual and general audience. Hopefully, this will turn out to be a sizable hit as far as budget and profits go, and it’s already doing well on the critical front. Those who dug the blacker and gory elements of the first film and the 21st Century reboot will definitely love this, even if there’s not a great deal of “new” stuff, apart from the city settings and suburban props. There is definitely promise for a slightly new direction and plenty of scope for continually exploring the power of the Necronomicon (keep your ears open for a time-travelling audio cameo). So set your expectations for gore galore and enjoy the experience. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more deadites at a faster rate on the big screen now, instead of waiting ten years for the next one. Groovy!
It doesn’t re-invent the Evil Dead wheel, but it does cover it in gallons of blood! The plot beats remain the same and the cabin is simply swapped for an LA building. Despite that, it is a rock-solid continuation of the franchise and immensely entertaining, cruelly rubbing your face in uneasiness when it wants to. Great cast and FX, and some superb audio editing. Embrace the unliving and make it a hit.
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