Evil Dead Rise
Fede Álvarez’s 2013 reboot of Sam Raimi’s infamously sharp-witted, gloriously gruesome and erroneously politicised Evil Dead franchise was a somewhat divisive beast among horror aficionados, right down to the semantics of whether or not it was a “remake” in the truest sense of the word. To some, it was a faithful conjuring of the nastier side of Raimi’s creation, with the brutality upped a couple of notches; to the rest, it represented a pointless if competently executed endeavour that made a conscious effort to nullify the joyful, physically comedic sensibility of its source – an unwelcome foray into the drudgery and cynicism of the torture porn phenomenon of the 00s.
A whole decade later, Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise restores the gleeful effervescence of the original trilogy, sprucely converting the franchise’s tropes into a smart, nightmarish vision of the modern family and motherhood. Its intentions towards renovation are clear from the opening moments: a disorientating tracking shot – an iconic hallmark of the franchise – from the point of view not of a violently awoken demon, but of a remote-controlled drone. Which is more frightening? The summoning of ancient spirits, or futuristic Prometheanism? After a pre-title sequence that treads otherwise familiar Evil Dead ground (i.e. a young, formulaic group of friends being terrorised deep the woods by a pitiless spectre), we are moved towards territory as yet undisturbed in the realm of Evil Dead: urbanity.
In the middle of a high-rise apartment block in the city of Los Angeles lives Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a single mother of three struggling to keep her head above water and carrying the weight of an eviction notice. When her sister, Beth (Lily Sullivan), a touring guitar technician, makes an impromptu visit, friction is apparent, owing to Beth’s perceived lifestyle on the road and unavailability. As familial nuances are fleshed out with dramatic and subtextual chops that are somewhat uncharacteristic of the film’s predecessors, an untimely earthquake rattles the city while Ellie’s three children are sent to pick up pizza for a family night in. The quake shatters a sinkhole in the ground of the building’s basement parking lot, which leads to a sealed vault. Danny (Morgan Davies), the eldest child, has the narratively necessary, yet ever-frustrating role of morbidly curious amateur archeologist, plunging into the vault, excavating and reading out-loud the infamous passages of The Book of the Dead. Family time ensues, just not in the way any of our characters could have imagined.
The initial possession sequence is perhaps one of the most effective of all five movies to date. Symbolically taking place in the claustrophobic confines of the block’s elevator, it is a scene that swirls and rages with savagery, setting the tone for the remaining acts. The sound design here is particularly effective, panning violently from ear to ear in a disorientingly immersive experience – truly the cinematic equivalent of being demonically possessed in a lift.
Unlike every other entry in the Evil Dead lineage, including the successful ones, Evil Dead Rise doesn’t simply hinge on its wildly extravagant balancing act between laughter and repulsion, but feels like the first Evil Dead film to have a richly developed subtext underpinning its viscerality, sometimes reading like a satire on the stretched fibres of the nuclear family in the 21st century. It is certainly the first to put women at its heart in a way that doesn’t strike as queasy or exploitative. That’s not necessarily to say this is the best entry (a title still held by the recklessly entertaining Evil Dead II), but Cronin’s keenly executed update comes in at a close second, and represents a return to form for Raimi’s universe.
Evil Dead Rise is released nationwide on 21st April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Evil Dead Rise here: