Gory, Go-for-Broke Evil Dead Rise a Groovy Good Time
Much like they did with director Fede Alvarez’s 2013 take on Evil Dead, producers and franchise originators Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, and Bruce Campbell have the good sense to let writer-director Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) do his own thing with Evil Dead Rise. Like Alvarez, Cronin also more than rises to the challenge. His go-for-broke horror extravaganza is a gorily gonzo roller-coaster ride that is as ruthless as it is exhilarating. I pretty much loved it.
After an earthquake opens up a mysterious hole in their building’s underground garage, siblings Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and Kassie (Nell Fisher) make a fantastical discovery. They bring their find to their unit on the 13th floor, where their devoted mother Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and somewhat immature aunt Beth (Lily Sullivan) — who only arrived this very night for a surprise visit — are both understandably worried and ecstatic they are all okay.
Danny’s find, of course, is one of the three copies of the Book of the Dead we first saw way back in 1992’s Army of Darkness. While neither he nor Bridget can read from it, it goes without saying that playing the three vinyl records that were found with the tome is going to prove to be a very bad idea. Nevertheless, the ancient words are said aloud, and the entire 13th floor is instantaneously isolated from the rest of the building, whereupon a demonic presence begins hunting for a human host to take possession of.
Let the carnage begin…
After a prologue misdirect, Cronin takes the franchise out of its familiar isolated “cabin in the woods” setting and drops it smack-dab in the middle of a dilapidated Los Angeles apartment complex. He also adds both a pair of estranged sisters dealing with their own emotional dilemmas and, for the first time, a trio of children (aged 11 to 16) into the mix. This gives things a fresh vitality, so when the Deadites finally come calling, it’s a legitimate question who is going to get possessed, who is going to get dismembered, and who — if anyone — is going to make it to dawn alive.
While I do not think any of the performances come close to Jane Levy’s tour de force turn in the 2013 film, I’m tempted to say this is the strongest cast in any Evil Dead entry yet, from top to bottom. Everyone is excellent — Sutherland, Sullivan, and pint-sized newcomer Fisher in particular. All of them make these characters real. I could relate to and understand where each was coming from. More importantly, as their fear grew, as the horror of their situation became more aggressively apparent, I could feel each and every insidious sensation right along with them.
The technical facets are incredible. Nick Bassett’s production design, Nick Connor’s art decoration, and Gareth Edwards’ set decoration (each a veteran of Ash vs. the Evil Dead) deliver the goods. The apartment interiors and the underground parking garage are sinisterly ominous labyrinths that grow in unsettling mystery as events progress. The film is edited with pinpoint precision by 2013 Evil Dead returnee Bryan Shaw, while cinematographer Dave Garbett — who also worked on Ash vs. the Evil Dead — manufactures disquieting images of chaotically unhinged terror that are eye-popping in their gruesomely delectable visual majesty.
The practical effects are stunning, and the increasingly disgusting makeup effects even more so. I was also entirely won over by the sequel’s inspired sound design. Cronin not only employs auditory tidbits that recall all of the previous films in the series (even 1981’s ultra-low budget initial entry), but he also unleashes a plethora of imaginatively unsettling new ones that give his take on the material a hallucinatory aura that’s uniquely its own.
I could go on and on. There are dialogue callbacks to Evil Dead 2 that are so giddily perfect that I couldn’t help but silently squeal in happy appreciation. Cronin also does a terrific job foreshadowing massive climactic set pieces early on, craftily using the entire frame to subtly show the viewer a series of implements and machinery that will unquestionably be utilized by surviving heroes against the Deadites.
Look, anyone walking into Evil Dead Rises should hopefully know what they’re getting themselves into. This is just short of 100 minutes of blood, guts, and mayhem on an almost unimaginable scale. But it’s also got a sense of humor, has a collection of characters worth rooting for, and delivers a rip-roaring climax that will have enthusiastic audiences sitting on the edge of their seats, ready to cheer.
I bet anyone reading this review knows what I have to say about all that: Groovy.
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)