If you thought your family dinners were a nightmare, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Irish director Lee Cronin’s latest instalment in the Evil Dead Rise franchise brings the bloodbath home.
Every ten years or so a new director has a bash at an Evil Dead film. After Sam Raimi’s original trilogy about demonic possession in the woods became cult classics, Fede Álvarez proved himself in his directorial debut with the 2013 reboot. Evil Dead (2013) is a horrific and torturous ride that launched his career; he has since directed Don’t Breathe, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot, and is now working on a new Alien movie. Lee Cronin deserves the same degree of success with Evil Dead Rise, a film that ticks every box—it’s funny, it’s gory, and it’s scary as hell.
Evil Dead Rise features two estranged sisters, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and Beth (Lily Sullivan), attempting to reconnect in difficult circumstances. Beth is a guitar technician who is struggling with an unexpected pregnancy, and Ellie is a mother of three adorable children, whose partner has left and who is about to be evicted from the crumbling LA apartment block they call home. And then there’s a thunderstorm. And an earthquake. And, oh yeah—one of the aforementioned adorable children has unearthed an ancient demonic manuscript and unleashed the forces of evil on the innocent family. When Ellie is possessed and becomes hell-bent (sorry) on destroying her own children, Beth gets an unexpected crash course in motherhood and learns how to parent the hard way.
While Álvarez opted for pure horror, Lee Cronin’s contribution to the Evil Dead franchise reintroduces some of the campness and comedy of the original films, and adds a touch of warmth that makes all the gore a little bit more bearable. From her dead-eyed stare to nightmarish grin, Alyssa Sutherland’s performance as Deadite Ellie is incredible and terrifying (how do you politely say someone has a face for horror?). Kassie (Nell Fisher), Danny (Morgan Davies) and Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) are all cute enough to eat and totally earnest little angels, making their torture at the hands of their own mother even more tense.
The film’s effects are incredible, both practical and CGI, and the gore is not for the fainthearted. But it’s always tongue-in-cheek, and remains gross and imaginative instead of veering into depressing. There are plenty of references for horror aficionados to enjoy, particularly in the many nods to The Shining, and Cronin provides fan service for die-hard The Evil Dead (1981) enthusiasts, paying tribute to iconic lines and set pieces while adding extra details that tie the newer films together. But he also innovates within the tradition. While the original Evil Dead films take place in a cabin in the woods, Cronin brings the danger closer to home with this urban and domestic setting. It’s a fresh take that works well and keeps things interesting. Evil Dead Rise is also accessible to anyone new to the franchise, and you don’t have to be a Deadite expert to come along for the ride.
Cronin pushes the envelope with his kid-horror beyond what is normal for the genre, and it’s refreshing; “I’m free now. Free of you titty-sucking parasites,” the possessed Deadite Ellie hisses at her children. Parenthood is scary, responsibility is scary, and sometimes kids themselves are scary. Cronin is well equipped to tackle this subject matter—his debut feature film Hole in the Ground (2019) revolves around the Irish folklore of changelings, when fairies steal children and leave an evil replacement behind. All this resonates well with Deadite lore, and Cronin’s experience in the topic shows.
Even though the forces of evil are seemingly undefeatable, the film miraculously doesn’t feel too dark. There might be one or two too many details in the exposition—did we really need to know that the apartment building used to be a bank?—and we could have spent a little more time getting to know the characters as people before they are variously wounded, impaled, and dismembered. But overall the film is a tightly crafted story that keeps you on the edge of your seat (or indeed, behind it) for the full ninety-six-minute runtime. Whatever Lee Cronin has in store for us next is sure to be worth waiting for.
Evil Dead Rise is a gruesome, blood-soaked family affair that might leave you looking at your loved ones sideways. If nothing else, you’ll never look at a cheese grater the same again.
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