Lee Cronin capably picks up the torch for horror’s most consistently solid franchise with gory aplomb.
Folks, I simply would not open that book.
In mentioning that the Evil Dead series has not a single clinker in the bunch, it’s also worth noting that it has a deceptively simple storyline, without the unnecessary mythos of Halloween’s Cult of Thorn. All it’s about is a book that’s used to summon demons, which someone always opens, and then bad things happen. Is it a thirst for knowledge, or some dark force that guides their hand to open the Necronomicon, bound in human flesh, not to mention listen to the recordings of a mysterious voice reading from it? It’s not clear, and more importantly, it doesn’t matter.
Lee Cronin gets what an Evil Dead movie should be (all killer, no filler), and, following Fede Alvarez’s solid turn with 2013’s Evil Dead, more than capably takes over the reins from creator Sam Raimi, writing and directing Evil Dead Rise. Like Alvarez, Cronin does away with the slapstick horror-comedy of the original trilogy, opening with a scalping within the first five minutes and never really letting up for the next ninety minutes.
Rather than a remote cabin, things now take place in an elegantly decaying Los Angeles apartment building, from where struggling tattoo artist Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a newly single mother of three, is facing eviction. Her wayward guitar tech sister Beth (Lily Sullivan), who has some big problems of her own, comes for a visit the same night an earthquake hits, revealing a hidden underground vault in the building’s parking garage. Ellie’s teenage son, Danny (Morgan Davies), explores the vault and discovers an all-too-familiar book (and also falls victim to what can only be described as a Jesus jump scare, perhaps a cinema first).
Series purists might be disappointed to see that this version of the Necronomicon is missing the gnarled face on the cover from the original three movies (as opposed to the 2013 version, which looks like it was defaced by an angry teenage heavy metal fan). It does have a nasty set of fangs holding it shut, however, which Danny proceeds to pry open, unwittingly setting free dark forces who set to work destroying everyone in their path: starting with Ellie, Danny’s mother.
Honestly, if it was me, I just wouldn’t open that book. It seems like a bad idea!
Anyway, though it does pay homage to Raimi’s movies (including one sure to be crowd-pleasing sight gag, pun fully intended), Evil Dead Rise isn’t just going through the motions. Beyond its change in setting, it’s the first in the series to put children in jeopardy, and it doesn’t always work out for them. The sense that literally no character in it is guaranteed to make it to the end of the movie makes for tense viewing, particularly when it’s established from darn near the beginning that they’re going to go in the most brutal way imaginable. With reportedly 1,700 gallons of fake blood used during filming (and every ounce of it is on screen), there’s plenty of practical effect disemboweling, stabbing, decapitating, biting, slashing, and someone chomping down on glass shards like potato chips. It’s a gruesome but exhilarating watch for genuine horror sickos.
While Lily Sullivan as Beth is an engaging and sympathetic protagonist, Alyssa Sutherland as Ellie is oddly mesmerizing, contorting herself as she’s put through the wringer in her transformation to the undead. Flashing a leering, monstrous grin reminiscent of Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, her most chilling moment is when she tries to coax her youngest child Kassie (Nell Fisher) into letting her back into their home, even though Ellie has already killed several people. The whole scene is a perfect combination of absurd and horrifying, which describes the Evil Dead series overall. Evil Dead Rise is a perfectly gruesome fit for it.
But, I cannot state this enough, you show me a book that’s made out of human skin and I’m leaving, that’s it.
Evil Dead Rise opens in theaters April 21st.