Directed by: Lee Cronin
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Written by Alexander Reams
“Mommy’s with the maggots now.”
The carnage that Writer/Director Lee Cronin and company have delivered in “Evil Dead Rise” feels like “The Evil Dead.” This is the film that Sam Raimi would make if he made “Evil Dead” in 2023, a low-budget film focused on family drama instead of cheap scares. It’s the continuation of the quality horror steeped in real-world problems (sorry “Paranormal Activity,” not all of us live in haunted houses) following “Smile” (mental health), “Nope” (exploitation of minorities in Hollywood), and “M3gan” (the growth of concern about technology and AI), to name a few. “Evil Dead Rise” is another entry in that vein of real-world problem based horror films, but as is the Raimi way, everything is approached in a skewed fashion. Handpicked by Raimi to continue the franchise, Lee Cronin’s sophomore effort is an improvement over his debut, “The Hole in the Ground,” and firmly cements him as a filmmaker to watch within the horror genre.
Cronin’s entryway into bringing some deadites into the frame is guitar technician Beth (Lily Sullivan), the reveal that she is pregnant adds a layer of uncertainty to the unease that Cronin’s camera causes from its frenetic maneuvers through the prologue that feels plucked out of a deleted scene from ‘The Evil Dead.” He blends the style of Raimi in “The Evil Dead” with modern sensibilities, such as the employment of drones to act as deadites, which allows for faster and more chaotic moves to be made. The prologue is seemingly disconnected from the rest of the film until the final minutes which is mildly frustrating but it does allow for a few showcases of makeup and prosthetics that are a sign of what’s to come. The use of prosthetics and practical effects over CGI is evident throughout and welcome. When Cronin introduces Beth, she’s at her most vulnerable, and when we meet Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) she’s in her element, fixing her tattoo gun and trying to make sure her kids, Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and Kassie (Nell Fisher), aren’t doing dangerous activities.
With Beth pregnant and on edge because of it, it’s the perfect time for the deadites to come in and ruin the day, and the Book of the Dead just happens to be in a secret underground vault. The design of the vault that Danny climbs into is wonderfully creepy. Through the use of long shadows via light work that cinematographer Dave Garbett employs much of “Evil Dead Rise” has an aura of brutality about it, the shadows are long because they seem to be chains. This is definitely not ominous, or at least not to Danny, who takes the book and accompanying vinyl discs up to the apartment and plays them. The spine-chilling sound design for this sequence in Danny’s room evokes the tone of “Evil Dead II.” Cronin’s continual reverence for the franchise is seen throughout “Evil Dead Rise” such as how quickly it all goes sideways. Soon after Danny plays the incantation on the vinyl, Ellie is taken by the deadites and quickly shows signs of general unwellness.
The standout performer is Sutherland, who encapsulates the manic energy of the “Evil Dead” films but roots the character in real-life issues which grounds her relationship with her children. Sutherland’s Ellie, and the family scenes in her apartment, are Cronin’s allowance for normalcy in a film that ends with its final characters drenched in blood, but not before a solid first and second act set up the finale’s mayhem. From making an omelet with shells in it to her bloodshot eyes that illuminate her rotten flesh, and her menacing one-liners, Sutherland nails the mix of camp with terror and gives one of the best performances you could find in the “Evil Dead” universe. The idea that she will appear in the peephole at any second maintains a level of tension in the apartment scenes as the night goes on, and when she shows her face as it slowly gets more and more sunken, the removal of Ellie’s humanity and the loss of her ability to be a mother allow for a more sympathetic view of the deadites than previously shown and Sutherland shines with this complex role.
The performances that Cronin pulls out of his performers are nothing short of fantastic. Each character is balanced and fleshed out so that every attack from the deadites feels like it might be the last, and the stakes continue to rise until the finale. Cronin took what Fede Alvarez did with “Evil Dead” (2013) and made it coherent. There is blood thrown at the screen by the truckload, but it’s never unclear where the focus is supposed to be, or what is being told within each frame. The blood and gore are great, but without a technical understanding, it would be for naught. Luckily for Cronin his troupe of technical creatives took the challenge and ran with it. “Evil Dead Rise” is not only a return to form for the franchise, but it’s also just a return to a vacation with some deadites, and that is a-okay in my book.
“Evil Dead Rise” Trailer