In a landscape polluted by excess horror sequels, the Evil Dead series has been admirably conservative with its output. Evil Dead Rise is film #5 in the series, and this is the first entry that tries to remove Bruce Campbell’s Ash entirely. To a degree, his presence is missed, but I’d argue it’s for the better. One of my chief complaints with the two recent Scream sequels was its reliance on the legacy characters as a crutch, therein handicapping itself in humanizing the new faces. Evil Dead Rise takes the elephant out of the room, and the result is a gory good time at the movies, but not without some added heft when it comes to the gravity of the dire situation at hand.
For this outing, the film focuses on Beth (Lily Sullivan), a music tech visiting her estranged sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland, Vikings), while on a break from the road. Ellie is a mother of three whose husband has left, and the family has tried to make due with a crappy Los Angeles apartment. Early into the film, an earthquake rattles the area, and the children — Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and Kassie (Nell Fisher) — discover the Book of Dead. When the incarnations within the book are played on a record, evil is unleashed into the home. The diabolical forces latch themselves onto Ellie, who is bound and attacked in an elevator. After that, she is not the same.
Less than a month out from Mother’s Day, Evil Dead Rise might most affect those with deep-seated maternal issues, or maybe prompt an emotional response from those close with their own mothers. Raimi’s Evil Dead films offered a whacky, almost anarchic assault on horror conventions, and infused comedy in the form of slapstick humor and inspiration from the likes of The Three Stooges. You will find very little humor in Evil Dead Rise. It’s a black-as-night bloodfest; a vomitorium of grotesqueness that shows a steadfast mom’s descent into madness. As a human, it slapped me with sadness. As a horror fan, it delighted me with extremes.
Hats off to Alyssa Sutherland, who throws herself into a roll that demands pathos, brooding, physicality, and outright neglect for her and anyone else’s wellbeing. The tireless costume and special effects designers make her a total monster; a danger to the dead and the living. Irish writer/director Lee Cronin channels Raimi in certain sequences. He utilizes the famous fast-moving POV shot in the opening minutes of the film. He’s at his most creative during a sequence when Kassie looks at her mother through the apartment peephole. She’s a gaunt, ghoulish figure trying to weasel her way inside, and Cronin’s wide-angle view of her through a small opening is frightful. It’s one of the best shots in the entire film. The makeup and prosthetics on Sutherland are some of the most original I’ve seen in a while.
Being that this is an Evil Dead movie, you’re treated to a plethora of moments that will make you squirm. A child chews on a wine glass; close-ups show him swallowing the shards of glass. Eyes are gouged, poked, and eaten out of skulls. Chainsaws hack and slash helpless bodies. Living critters and black sludge are coughed up. Gore permeates more than half of the scenes in the film. Frankly, it’s all revolting, and the lack of humor — one-liners spouted by deadite Ellie evoke more sadness than comedy — makes the unfolding depravity that much more stark.
Evil Dead Rise evokes something larger as a whole. As the story unfolds from the perspective of Beth and the children, there’s a helpless feeling of watching someone you love descent into madness that captivated me on a human level. There is no superhuman like Ash that can defeat any creature with which he’s faced. This is something darker and more devious, and the impression it leaves on you will depend on the depth of your trauma. Even as I relished in the bloodlust, I couldn’t shake the sadness present in the narrative. At the end of the day, I’m glad I felt something.
NOTE: Evil Dead Rise is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, and Nell Fisher. Directed by: Lee Cronin.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!