This first look at Evil Dead Rise comes from the film’s debut at the 2023 SXSW conference. We’ll be doing more in-depth coverage as the film’s release date approaches.
Evil Dead Rise is a film made by the sick for the sick. It’s a fantastic update to the iconic franchise, one that upholds the manic glee of Sam Raimi’s original ’80s Evil Dead movies, while simultaneously bringing forward the taste of the disgusting and disturbing of Fede Álvarez’s 2013 remake. brings. With a refreshing change in scenery and cast, plus a breakout appearance from Alyssa Sutherland, writer-director Lee Cronin proves there’s still a lot of life and struggle left in this undead franchise.
In terms of sheer fear factor, your mileage may vary with Evil Dead Rise. This spin-off falls somewhere between Álvarez’s remake and Raimi’s comedy-heavy Evil dead 2. The murders are absolutely brutal and gnarly, the emphasis on endangering children gives the action a new edge, and the tone is generally bleak and brutal.
And yet it still finds moments of lightness. Although it is far from a comedy, there are many laughs Evil Dead Rise – like a joke about an eyeball being ripped out and then landing on someone’s mouth. Cronin has a solid handle on the scale between scary and funny, entertaining both without undercutting. This is a movie best seen with a huge horror-loving audience that takes in the horrific horror with the lame jokes, who scream and cheer along with the action.
A big part of why this movie’s more straightforwardly horrific take works is the change of formula. Instead of focusing on victims in a cabin in the woods, it moves to the big city, where it follows a family tormented by Kill, the signature adversaries of the Evil Dead movies. There’s no army of the undead here: Similar to the 1981 original, the film only deals with one Deadite, playing more like a possession story than what modern moviegoers would expect from a “zombie movie.”
The role of the villain falls to Alyssa Sutherland as Ellie, a mother of three who falls victim to a demonic possession after one of her children – or as she puts it, her “tit-sucking parasite” – Book of the Dead. Soon she turns on her own children and tries to gruesomely murder them with every tool in the house. (A cheese grater becomes a star.)
On the other side is Beth (Lily Sullivan), Ellie’s sister, who returns home when an unexpectedly positive pregnancy test freaks her out. Once in the apartment, she is forced to fight her own sister as everyone in her family turns on each other. Sullivan is fantastic, with Cronin adding depth to her through hints of past trauma that round out the character without taking away the silly fun of an Evil Dead movie. This isn’t “elevated horror” – don’t expect an A24 horror film about exploring grief – but the family aspect creates a dynamic with heavier emotions connecting viewers to the characters, while still prioritizing the gross scare.
Once Ellie is possessed, the movie catches its second wind and completely derails in the best way. Ellie immediately turns on her family by threatening, scaring and hunting them, as well as insulting them. At the same time, even Deadite Ellie still loves her children, and she often begs to be restrained.
Cronin uses his location to the max. Everyday objects take on a new and sinister atmosphere as they make their way to the characters. There is a sense of claustrophobia throughout the film, with characters given little chance to escape the apartment. Cronin and his team have a clear penchant for practical effects, which can be seen in the sheer amount of tactile, physical gore on screen. He also has a fondness for the Evil Dead films: Cronin fills the script and screen with as many visual references and homages to the original Sam Raimi films as he can, and showers the film with fan service, from iconic weapons to dialogue and even the choices of shots.
Evil Dead Rise is a worthy addition to the Evil Dead franchise. At 97 minutes, with a lot of levity mixed into the action, it feels like it’s almost over as soon as it starts. It’s a perfect onboarding flick for newer audiences who’ve never seen an Evil Dead movie, but for longtime fans, it’s a breath of fresh air in a classic horror comedy franchise, mixing Raimi’s old school approach with the new school of horrific horror. It proves that there is still a lot to color in within the old deadlines.
Evil Dead Rise will premiere in theaters on April 21.