The Seinfeld of Horror Films.
Just when you thought it was done, cinema’s most gleefully grisly horrorshow rises back up to vomit bloody right into your eyes while you thank it for doing so. A mere ten years after the last cinematic instalment (and an even merer five years after the TV show was axed) Evil Dead is back, with a fresh new story from a fresh new voice featuring fresh new horrifying sights for your soul to swallow. But is it the grand return we all want it to be?
When the troubled Beth (Lily Sullivan) appears at her sister Ellie’s (Alyssa Sutherland) apartment, things are uneasy. Ellie is struggling to reign in her three kids (teenagers Danny and Bridget and younger child Kassie, played by Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols and Nell Fisher, respectively) amidst her husband walking out on her. Sounds hellish? Throw in a vinyl recording of the Kandarian Book of the Dead being read aloud and suddenly things get a whole lot worse.
Right off the bat, Evil Dead Rise changes it all up. Writer/director Lee Cronin is that best kind of superfan director. Instead of wrecking the film he loves with his own take on it (a la Rob Zombie) he fits it in right next to the ones that started it all quite perfectly. Starting safe and familiar in a cabin in the woods (a fairly unnecessary sequence in the grand scheme, but hardly a deal-breaker), we shift promptly to an apartment block where our heroes, our poor, stupid, wrong-place, wrong-time, why-did-you-read-the-book-aloud heroes, must defend themselves from a now deadite Ellie. It’s a bravura, minimalist twist on a formula that fits in so perfectly, you’ll wonder why elements of it were relegated to some cruddy videogames in the past. The wide open space of a cabin in the woods is replaced with the claustrophobic terror of a tiny apartment, immediately upping the stakes, tension and potential for some grisly gore.
One of the main problems with Fede Alvarez’s remake, and the initial trailers for Rise, was the sheer fact that the series seemed to lose that secret ingredient; the humour. The deadites may be evil murdering hell-bastards intent on inflicting bloodshed on all they cross paths with, but man, were they funny while doing it. Such is the way with Sam Raimi, a Three Stooges nut directing a horror film. With Evil Dead Rise, it is with a great sigh of relief to report that the deadites are funny again. And a great chunk of that is thanks to Sutherland.
Sutherland’s performance is pitch-perfect for the ridiculous horror that she’s surrounded by. As Ellie herself, she’s credibly conflicted with everything going on, just coasting by until she can come up with a true plan. But as her deadite incarnation, she’s a bloody terrifying hoot. Delivering chilling one-liners (“Mommy’s with the maggots now”) while acing her comedic physicality (her sudden appearance through a door in one scene can’t help but be frightening and hilarious at the same time), Sutherland is a gift, finding the tricky balance that so many before her have struggled with (unless they’re Ted Raimi). Her demonic eyes will stare into your soul before she swallows it.
The rest of the cast turn in decent work as well. Sullivan’s Beth feels genuinely compelling, filling out her role in her estranged family better and better as the horrors unfold. Echols’ does her best as the frankly insufferable Bridget, eventually getting her time to shine come the inevitable. If there’s a true weak link, it falls on Fisher, the youngest of the cast. While it may be easy to suspend one’s disbelief given her age, it’s hardly a proper excuse. While she certainly delivers on her “scared” face, its hard to ignore the fact that she’s the only, strangely, Australian-sounding member of this American family.
And while the film delivers on gore aplenty, there’s the niggling feeling that they could have gone further in certain areas. For example, the much ballyhooed “cheese-grater scene”, as shoehorned by the promo campaign, feels fairly disappointing. When one thinks of such an implement being used in an Evil Dead film, it sounds horrific. Nightmarish, even. In practice, it is instead fairly perfunctory. And while it’s apparently made clear that no character is truly safe in the film, it’s easy to tell where this is made an exception of.
Evil Dead Rise is a ruddy good Evil Dead film. Yes, it still feels a bit too clean on account of its budget, but the spirit of those original films remains intact. It’s one of the best truly gory horror films in years, and still has time to laugh at itself. You’ll want to laugh with it, just be wary of flying eyeballs heading your way while you do.