It all started with a book that shouldn’t have been opened and human curiosity. Young people find this ancient artifact (Necronomicon) that oozes with sinister undertones and should be left alone or thrown far away, never to be found again. But where is the fun in that, as we have seen in four films and a television show the gory damage that the Evil Dead franchise has caused, leaving few survivors and tons of carnage in its path to show the damage the book of the dead can do if you attempt to understand it. With Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise, we find a new location with new lore added to the horror franchise, leading to new violent delights for the fans of the supernatural horror franchise.
In the bathroom of a dive bar, we find Beth (Lily Sullivan), a young woman who has been traveling around the country and the world avoiding the life she left behind. But she is terrified to discover that she is now pregnant, and doesn’t know what to do. So she hops on a plane for Los Angeles to visit her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her three children. When we are introduced to the location our film’s events will take place, we learn that this building is about to be torn down, yet Ellie hasn’t found a new place for her family to live. They are comfortable there, with each child having their own room with things that drive their passions, like Ellie having a place to work, Danny (Morgan Davies) having a mixing station set up for his music, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) with space to work on her activism projects, and the youngest member of the family, Kassie (Nell Fisher), having room to create her toys for herself.
But the family is hanging on by a thread after Ellie’s husband left them, and Beth’s arrival is just a reminder of the pain that Ellie experienced. When she was at her lowest point, she needed her sister, but Beth wasn’t there for her. There is friction there between the sisters but not enough to damage their reunion, but could’ve and should’ve been explored a little more before the horror fun begins. As the sisters talk, Ellie sends the kids out to go get them pizza, but upon their arrival, the building begins to shake, and an earthquake causes the ground to open up a path to an underground vault with a record room and books covered in dust. Danny (using that signature horror character curiosity) goes down into the hole and finds some vinyl recordings as well as, you guessed it, the book of the dead. As the kids go back upstairs, Kassie goes with Ellie and Beth to make sure everything is okay after the earthquake but Danny and Bridget go to his room and poke the bear, putting on the records he found, and opening up this mysterious book, with sharp clams holding it together from being released upon the mortal words.
When the needle is dropped, we hear of an ancient ritual performed by priests who have found the book, and their findings of pure destruction to anyone who reads from passages from the book, which you can hear on the second record. As the kids are playing this, we see Ellie coming back from downstairs with the family’s laundry, and we see the signature Evil Dead camera movements swarming to her in the elevator, trapping her, and possessing her in a matter of minutes. When the record stops, and the kids are terrified at what they heard, we flash to their mother’s return to the apartment, and the classic franchise madness begins, as Ellie starts to fight Beth, Danny, Bridget, and Kassie with all she has, forcing this once fractured family to come together to defeat this demon and try to save Ellie if they can.
But as they fight her, they realize there is no stopping her, because she is already dead, and kills without any care. This is when director and writer Lee Cronin gets inventive as a new voice behind the reigns of this horror vehicle, making this a family story, in particular, a story about a woman saving her nieces and nephews and doing what it takes to become a mother for her future child; even if that means picking up a shotgun and shooting your possessed sister who tried to use a cheese grater on the back of your right calf. In doing this, Cronin turns Beth into a new horror heroine that can make fans of the franchise and genre happy, while also showcasing Sullivan’s dedicated, electric performance.
The franchise has been in a limbo period since the TV show Ash vs Evil Dead came to an end, and with Cornin’s vision, and Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell executive producing and giving him their blessing, this storyteller has been able to organically build out the lore of the franchise, briefly dropping a hint that this is a new book of the dead (one of three) and thus the rules are completely different. Evil Dead Rise is able to perfectly balance the camp and humor found in the Raimi Evil Dead projects with the unrelenting tone found in Fede Álvarez’s 2013 reimagining. By doing this, we can see that the franchise has new life alongside gallons of new blood to slip and it should lead to more adventures within the expanded universe.
Evil Dead Rise gives us plenty of thrills and kills to make us all squirm and gleefully cheer in our seats. The formula here isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it is trying to get us excited about the endless opportunities that can still be found in the most reliable horror franchise in Hollywood. With this, we should all be curious to see what comes next and expect it to be a bloody good time.
This review is from the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Warner Bros. will release Evil Dead Rise only in theaters on April 21, 2023.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures