Evil Dead Rise (Warner Bros., R)

Back in 2016 when I first saw Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, as the lights came up and the credits began, I felt I had had a life-changing experience with that film. I usually like to sit in the furthest-back row of the front group of seats with the horizontal aisle right behind me, if the auditorium is set up that way. This often means strangers’ first reactions to a film as they leave their seats are right within earshot. So imagine my dismay when the first thing I heard while on my cloud nine of Arrival was a patron who sounded quite disappointed saying, “It wasn’t what I was expecting.”

Cut to last night, as of this publishing. After having had tons of fun with Evil Dead Rise, writer/director Lee Cronin’s entry into the storied horror franchise, I hear someone walking out during the credits letting out a sigh of “Pretty disappointing.”

Of course, I don’t take these tiny bits and pieces of overheard conversation to heart. Arrival was enormously successful, garnering a Best Picture Oscar nomination and securing Villeneuve’s A-list director status. Although I don’t believe it to be quite as transcendent an experience, Evil Dead Rise is having a comparable moment in its own way, if we consider its horror compatriots.

Modern installments of, or new takes on horror classics are usually total garbage. They often feel like nothing more than pointless, cynical cash-grabs. In my view, this couldn’t be further from the truth in regard to Rise and its most recent predecessor, 2013’s Evil Dead — although the two are nearly unrelated story-wise. This is perhaps the only millennium-straddling horror franchise that has always been treated with a high level of genuine love and care for as long as it’s been around, and the consensus of reviews for both recent films (along with the 2013 film’s box office returns) reflect this.

I brought up the naysayers because I want to stress that your mileage may vary on Rise. This definitely isn’t for the horror-skeptical, and even if you’re a horror fanatic and a fan of this franchise like me, I can totally understand where it might fall short of your expectations. Personally, I found it to be a twisted, blood-soaked delight.

Rise opens with the trademark whooshing camera movement used by director Sam Raimi and his teams across the original Evil Dead trilogy. We fly through a riverbed and land at a dock on a lake. Here, I was worried we were going to get another woodsy horror picture, as if we didn’t have enough trees and cabins in the original series. Thankfully, this is just setting up the cold open, which ends with one of the coolest title cards you’ll ever see.

We cut to one day earlier, following Beth (Lily Sullivan), a guitar technician for a rock band. She’s just discovered she’s pregnant, so she seeks advice from her older sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), who has three children of her own, adolescents Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Danny (Morgan Davies), and elementary-school-age Kassie (Nell Fisher).

Ellie is a newly-single mother, thanks to her recently separated husband who we never see. Her kids are all unique: Bridget is the left-leaning leader, Danny an aspiring musician, and Kassie a female version of Sid from Toy Story, in the sense that she likes mutilating her toys. The toy bit is the best joke in the movie, and its presence as the standout joke signals that although Rise references the original films in many ways, it isn’t a slapstick comedy like those films often were. It feels made for a modern horror audience while having just enough of a goofy edge to keep you on your toes, but not to the degree of Raimi’s jocularity. Rise also isn’t high-concept like modern horror hits such as Get Out or The Cabin in the Woods. It doesn’t have much of a message at all, just some underlying themes about motherhood and self-actualization. Some might feel that those ideas get lost amid the splatter, but I would disagree. Once the infamous “Book of the Dead” appears and its dark energy begins possessing this family, the strong performances of Sutherland, Sullivan, and Echols depict a triumvirate sisterhood desperate to cling to a sense of normalcy while life continues to throw curveballs at them. Their work grounds Rise, giving the audience something emotionally concrete as the creative kills pile up and we nearly get abducted into the gory afterlife.

I have to close with an addendum by praising the makeup team. I don’t know why so few horror films get the makeup Oscar nomination, but Levonne Scott certainly deserves one for turning the beautiful Alyssa Sutherland into a demon that will haunt me for weeks, if not months. | George Napper

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *