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Evil Dead Rise (2023) Review

Evil Dead Rise sets out to Make Horror Grate Again!

After the perennially troubled franchise failed to get a direct sequel to either ARMY OF DARKNESS, or THE EVIL DEAD (2013) or even a fourth season of ASH VS THE EVIL DEAD off the ground, the Deadites finally managed to return to cinemas in Lee Cronin’s EVIL DEAD RISE, a film which treats its place in what passes for continuity with casual disdain and studied ambiguity.

An idyllic trip to the lake is interrupted when Teresa, something of a third wheel on cousin Jessica and Jessica’s boyfriend Caleb’s getaway, is abruptly and bloodily possessed by Deadites, scalping her cousin and decapitating Caleb before levitating above the lake. “How’s your head, hun?” indeed. But how could such a possession have taken place? Well, it turns out that it all happened twenty-four hours previously and that’s the film you get to watch. The bait-and-switch in media res smacks not of clever parabolic storytelling but rather of a movie which ended up underrunning and therefore needed an unrelated preamble to bump it up to feature length.

In any event, twenty four hours earlier takes place not in a cabin in the woods but in an improbably derelict and condemned yet still inhabited Los Angeles apartment block where Beth (Lily Sullivan), an itinerant guitar technician who’s recently discovered she is pregnant, comes to visit her estranged sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a tattoo artist and single mum with three children: self-styled DJ Danny (Morgan Davies), overly earnest Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and requisite adorable moppet Kassie (Nell Fisher). Phew, that’s a lot of set-up, right? But it will totally be worth it and pay off in a thematically rich and satisfying way throughout the rest of the movie though, right? Eh.

Anyway, a trip to get some pizzas, and a convenient minor earthquake, unearths a hidden sub-basement to the carpark where the kids come across a stash of old vinyl records which Danny just can’t resist putting the needle to. The bass may remain obstinately undropped, but Danny sure does drop the rest of his family – and the few remaining residents of the benighted block – in deep shit as the power goes out and Ellie becomes ground zero for a new Deadite outbreak.

There’s a desultory effort to connect Beth’s unwanted pregnancy and her doubts about her abilities to be a good mother to what happens to her sister, leaving her kids orphaned but it’s barely acknowledged once the possession proper begins and all of the Chekov’s sharp objects have been placed around the apartment like a demented game of Cluedo. It’s not why the fans are here, and Cronin knows it. The fans are here for gore, gore, gore and he knows how they like it.

EVIL DEAD RISE feels more self-contained than any of its predecessors, an economical “bottle show” of a horror movie, which works to its advantage almost as often as it hinders the film although its parking lot finale feels much less EVIL DEAD and much more RESIDENT EVIL.

Although EVIL DEAD RISE gives away many of its best moments in the trailer – you’ll never cook eggs quite the same way again – there’s plenty of splatter left in the tank for the unseen minutes that await you. There are jump scares aplenty, liberally interspersed with slow creeping moments of building inevitability and all held together by that most reliable of horror tropes: otherwise apparently reasonable people making catastrophically stupid or naïve decisions.

Ultimately it’s a serviceable, occasionally wince-inducingly savage, splatter-fest, content to gleefully paint the screen with the blood and guts of its cast of characters as it revels in its horror movie heritage. Where it falls short, though, is the near-total absence of the mischievous wit and intentionally darkly goofy humour of its predecessors. An EVIL DEAD film should really make you scream with laughter as often as it does with terror and EVIL DEAD RISE takes itself a little too seriously to risk cracking a smile every now and then.