Like the latest Scream installment, Evil Dead Rise takes its horror into an urban landscape, grappling with demonic forces––e.g. motherhood––that are sometimes just as horrific as the kills in Lee Cronin’s twisted black comedy. If not without a few false notes on the dramatic side, its horror delivers all the bodily fluid you’d expect in a rousing crowd-pleaser that makes a mostly worthy follow-up to Fede Álvarez’s stylish, ultra-violent 2013 edition. That film took the franchise in a new, perhaps too-cruel direction from Rami’s more playful B-movie style. The latest installment reframes its humor as much darker, with a take on caregiving and the evil mother in the vein of Carrie. Cronin elevates the material into something newer and edgier than Rami’s campy, handmade-looking originals. Perhaps there’s no going back once studios are involved, and Evil Dead Rise’s production design by Nick Bassett is nearly as elaborate as any Oscar nominee.

The demonic force is first introduced to us on a camping trip, where we left off in 2013, before shifting to a derelict apartment building in Los Angeles’ Skid Row for a story that initially seems unrelated. Recently abandoned by her husband, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is navigating motherhood––often with some cruelty towards her kids, teens Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and aspiring DJ Danny (Morgan Davies), and the younger, quieter Kassie (Nell Fisher). When Ellie’s estranged sister, musician and technician Beth (Lily Sullivan), shows up to talk about her pregnancy, an earthquake rocks the building and exposes more than just cracks in their relationship. The pregnancy subplot and a call to action for Beth both suggest a sloppy way of rendering her the heroic protector of Danny, Bridge, and Kassie.

Though short on plot (a flesh-eating demonic force eventually inhabits Ellie), Rise more than over-indexes in the style department, creating a funhouse of horrors in the dilapidated former bank building that still has some of its antiquities left behind by depositors, including vinyl records of demonic possession unearthed and played by Danny. 

Notwithstanding the motherhood side plot, Rise uses the basic formula for the Evil Dead franchise (demonic forces haunt a landscape) and transports it into a contained rollercoaster of thrills and splatter that occasionally digs in with its mommy issues. Still, Sutherland’s Ellie makes for a fascinating character that I wish was slightly more developed before all hell breaks loose. Recently single, she is too harsh of a disciplinarian at times; for Beth, motherhood becomes a trial by fire as she’s tasked with taking the lead.

For horror fans particularly dedicated to this franchise, the character development might not matter as much as the horror sequences, which are extraordinarily well-executed, drawing upon the art deco aesthetic of an aging building filled with secondhand vintage furniture and random found objects. Suggesting a more polished version of Terrifier 2, Cronin and his technical team––including director of photography Dave Garbett––know exactly what they’re doing and deliver all the bloody cheese grater scrapes, demonic strangulation by wire, and jump scares that are to be expected. 

Evil Dead Rise premiered at SXSW 2023 and opens on April 21.

Grade: B-

No more articles