Evil Dead Rise review

Evil Dead Rise works best when it’s bloody disgusting

3.5 out of 5 stars

The opening shot of Evil Dead Rise undercuts expectations. An entity races over a forest scene, over a lake, until it nearly hits a woman on a dock — a common trope in the Evil Dead films. At first glance, the sequence feels too sleek and overproduced. Compared with the running camera of the earlier films, due to the overtly “clean” aesthetics offered by a drone shot, we lose a sense of palpable horror. But, as a literal drone nearly hits the character, spurring her to return indoors to check in on her laid-up friend, we realize it’s all a joke. The entire cold open sets up a typical Evil Dead film — a cabin in the woods, asshole kids and demonic possession — before pulling the carpet from under our feet. 

Let’s jump back to one day earlier. Beth (Lily Sullivan) is in a dirty bathroom peeing on a stick as a colleague screams at her from the other side; music pumps in the background, and her make-up is smeared with her sweat. Unsure what to do about her pregnancy, she hops on a plane to California to visit her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her three kids. They live in an old building still adorned with 1940s wallpaper and vaguely art deco motifs. The building will be torn down in less than a month, and the family still needs to find a new place to stay. 

Evil Dead Rise review

Early on, cracks in the relationship between Beth and Ellie show. Younger and wilder Beth relies on her older sister but rarely reaches out unless she needs help. Beth didn’t even realize that Ellie and her husband had separated. Ellie sends the kids out for pizza to spare them from another heated argument about family separation. An earthquake hits as things are about to get real, personal and heated between the sisters. In the aftermath, the kids arrive home, find a secret vault under the building and recover a strange book. Throughout this build, the tension mounts through various jump scares that are generally more grating than satisfying. 

From here, the film takes off in typical Evil Dead fashion: an ancient evil is released, spreading through the apartment complex. The possessed are smiling and chaotic, with no self-regard for bodily integrity. Their faces twist into inhuman smiles, and their bodies contort into almost insect-like formations. Shifting the location from a cabin to an apartment complex (most takes place on one floor, as the earthquake damages the stairs and elevator) creates new opportunities for horror. Urbanity offers new weapons, villains and obstacles in overcoming the encroaching evil entity. 

The film works best when it’s blood-soaked. Though the movie’s first half hints at a more PG horror — reliant on cheap thrills and foul language rather than inventive and escalating monstrosity — the second half leans into extremes. Bodies are mangled, set on fire, cheese-grated, eyes are gouged out, mouths are impaled, limbs blown off. The violence, cartoonish and often humorous, is also decadent and disgusting. Even for a viewer accustomed to extreme violence, the movie might make you wince or look away — an endorsement for some and a warning for others.

Evil Dead Rise review

The film’s themes and atmosphere circle various motherhood fears, toying with ideas of the fetus as an invasion/parasite, parental regret and the more child-oriented fear of abandonment. The film can bend to fit a variety of points of view; it’s difficult to break down any particular stance, as it is ideologically all over the place. More satisfied with creating a mood board of fears rather than offering up a cleanly packaged political statement, Evil Dead Rise harkens to a previous era by not “choosing sides” (which invariably means it leans conservative). 

Yet, even the more conservative elements are somewhat muted by the nuanced lead performance by Lily Sullivan. The script doesn’t necessarily draw convincing threads that lead to her character’s decision about her unborn fetus, but her uncertain and unrelenting performance builds intimacy through the discomfort. Forced to reckon with emotions and family problems she’s long been avoiding, Beth’s transformation is rendered authentically and painfully through Sullivan’s performance. The film doesn’t paint Beth as merely a “Strong Female Character” but a person gripped by fear and anxiety. She’s not your typical badass but someone continually refusing the call of destiny. 

Though the film suffers from some self-referentialism, it does a good job of balancing new elements with the tropes of the Evil Dead franchise. The new location works well, and the shift toward family dynamics offers new character opportunities. The movie’s laugh-out-loud funny and also gag-inducing. Though it might not reach the heights of absurdity as some of Sam Raimi’s films, it’s a no less satisfying cinematic experience. ■

Evil Dead Rise (directed by Lee Cronin)

Evil Dead Rise opened in Montreal theatres on Friday, April 21, and is streaming now in Canada on Crave.

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