Evil Dead Rise (2023)

After ten years in development hell after the previous feature film installment of the Evil Dead franchise and just five since the wrap of the third and final season of the television sequel, Ash vs Evil Dead, Evil Dead Rise has finally arrived. There’s no Ash this time (unless you count a brief audio cameo) and Fede Alvarez is nowhere to be seen, but with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Rob Tapert producing and Lee Cronin writing and directing, we get something that stays true to the spirit of the original film.

I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but if something appeared in the trailers, I may mention it – like that cheese grater gag (I won’t lie; I cringed). The film opens at a cabin in the woods. A nice one this time, and before more than a few minutes have passed, all hell breaks loose (literally), and we get that fantastic shot of the possessed girl rising up and floating above the lake. Then the titles rise up behind her and the music blares and we cut to black.

The fateful words, “One day earlier” appear and we know from the get-go that everybody we are about to meet are more than likely fucked. What we get is something that we haven’t really seen in the film series before. People living lives in the city. It’s southern California and Beth (Lily Sullivan) has just found out she’s pregnant, so she heads to the home of her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a tattoo artist whose husband has just left a couple of months prior. She has three kids, tough and smart Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), wanna-be DJ Danny (Morgan Davies), and the adorable little sister with a freaky creative streak, Kassie (Nell Fisher) – who steals the film and is downright incredible.

Cronin’s script is fairly tight, with only a few character moments slowing down the story long enough to provide just enough development so we start to care about all these doomed souls. Even the neighbors who are only given glimmers of actual personality. It’s okay. They don’t need to do much more than get in the way of the Mack Truck that is Momma when she turns. (That’s not a spoiler. It’s there on the poster.) And good gravy does Sutherland play possessed with the best of them.

She’s iconic.

The script also adds a few new details to the lore of Evil Dead, most specifically that there are three volumes of the Book of the Dead – a tweak that casually references and reframes a classic moment in Army of Darkness. It’s actually a pretty amazing shift in the franchise that opens up opportunities for future films taking place in just about any time or setting.

There are a few jump scares, but not too many, and just about everything that happens in the plot is nicely set up earlier in the film. Nothing happens just to have something happen. The motherhood angle works thematically to give Beth the motivation to try harder and harder to survive and save the kids (and her own unborn child) after Ellie – the responsible sister – turns into an unstoppable murder machine.

That’s another thing that really works well with the shift to a big city setting (although most of the film takes place in one apartment). If you’re familiar with the Deadites (those possessed by the demons released by reading from the Book of the Dead) from Evil Dead, you know that the only way to stop them is to completely dismember them. And even then, they’ll keep coming for you.

And holy hell, do they keep coming for Beth and the kids. In ways never before seen in the franchise.

Ever.

For those gore hounds out there, there’s nothing to fear. Evil Dead Rise is filled with practical effects and whatever is supported with digital enhancement is so smooth I was never taken out of a scene. In fact, a couple of the more disgusting effects had to be digital, but they were still extremely effective and made me actually shudder while I giggled. And in true Evil Dead fashion, as we reach the climax of the film, the blood and gore goes way over the top in a way that warmed my heart; much like the climax of Alverez’s 2013 sequel.

There’s blood everywhere. And body parts. And an iconic chainsaw scene.

And when you think everything is safe, we get a reminder that, oh yeah, this all happened the day before the opening mayhem at the lake.

In what is maybe the best news, according to Bruce Campbell, “We’re going to try and do them more like every two or three years rather than every 10 years. It’s also the first time Sam is working with his brother Ivan to create an overall Bible that will give future writers and directors an idea of where this thing should go next to potentially tie in some of these stories. So I think it’s going to get a little more tied in as the years go by.

I’m all right with the more serious tone of the film – despite some blatant dialogue shout outs to famous lines – since we’ve got three seasons of more light-hearted comedy horror with the TV series. Cronin did a good job staying true to the feel of the original film and Alvarez’s sequel. The gore is extreme, the effects are solid, and the Deadites are freakier and scarier than they’ve been in a while.

Also, for those wondering, there’s no after credit scene.

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