‘Evil Dead Rise’ Review: Deadites Cause High-Rise Havoc In Lee Cronin’s Horror Venture – SXSW
Deadites are everywhere in Lee Cronin’s newest film Evil Dead Rise. Taking place in cosmopolitan Los Angeles, these wacky demons still cause high-rise havoc in the modern era. Also written by Cronin, a true fan of the Evil Dead franchise, the movie stars Alyssa Sutherland, Lilly Sullivan, Morgan Davies, Gabriele Echols and Nell Fisher. It is interesting seeing these stories shift from a male to female perspective, showing that women can also be heroes of the supernatural as well.
Evil Dead Rise starts with a sweeping shot along a creek. This is the typical way a Deadite approaches its next victim — but no, that’s just a drone used by Caleb (Richard Crouchley), who’s hanging out with Teresa (Mirabai Pease) on a lake dock. Rounding out the trio is Jessica (Anna-Maree Thomas), who is sick in bed and not up for activities. When Teresa checks on Jessica, she can see that her friend isn’t having a restful sleep. As she reads Wuthering Heights, Jessica pops up, falls to the floor, convulses and transforms into a Deadite demon. Her possession is connected to the events in L.A. that happened the day before as the film cuts to an apartment where Ellie (Sutherland) and her children Danny (Davies), Bridget (Echols) and Kassie (Fisher) live. Her younger sister Beth (Sullivan) shows up after finishing a tour in Bangkok and needs a place to stay, while being simultaneously informed that her family has one month left in the building before it’s demolished.
Ellie sends her kids on a pizza run, but as soon as they return, a 5.5 earthquake hits the area, destroying the apartment and creating a deep hole in the parking garage where her kids are. Danny goes into the hole to explore and finds the Book of the Dead and a few vinyl records. Not knowing what the hell they have their hands on, she takes it home to investigate. Opening the book and playing the records delivers the incantation that gets the Deadite party going. But instead of possessing the person who started it, Ellie is the one who gets caught in the middle. Beth, her nieces and nephew must find a way to break the spell before they all are consumed by this curse of the damned.
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The Deadites are one of the most comedic and charismatic of horror canon, causing its victims to act in strange ways while mocking itself and others. Cronin understands how to use these attributes and gives their actions and dialogue a modern flair. The director-writer also expounds on some the lore of this demonic force. Hearing this information lends credence to why a chainsaw will always be the Evil Dead universe’s most coveted weapon. Cronin also deploys familiar camera tricks and angles that are reminiscent of the original movies. However, it’s not a duplication of Sam Raimi’s work but an appreciation because the director uses these elements to build a one-off that is wholly his own.
Thanks to stunt coordinator Stuart Throp, the cast of Evil Dead Rise look strong and agile as their bodies shift and contort in various ways to show the demonic hold on the characters’ mind, body and spirit. Physical acting has been a hallmark of the franchise since the first film in 1981, and everyone is on board no matter how uncomfortable it might look. That and the practical effects and stunning makeup are the reasons why the Evil Dead movies are some of the most revered in the genre.
What bothers me about the film is the same thing that annoys me about all horror tropes and how they’re deployed. Why is everyone standing around doing nothing? Why are people voluntarily exploring weird locations and bringing back artifacts they aren’t familiar with? Why are they loud and making noise? Why, why, why? There has to be smart and innovative ways to execute these ideals without making the characters look like fools. These tropes are the worst way to move the narrative forward — though, to be fair, it’s not an Evil Dead movie without people bringing death upon themselves because of their nonsensical actions.
The 2013 Evil Dead pic was a bit more self-serious than the films before it. Maybe that was Raimi and Rob Tapert’s effort to shift things in a new direction, but it didn’t quite work. Although this premise takes place in the city as opposed to the woods, Evil Dead Rise feels like a real return to form. It’s funny, absurd, gory, bleak and will keep viewers on edge — just how fans like it.
Title: Evil Dead Rise
Festival: SXSW, Headiners
Director-screenwriter: Lee Cronin
Cast: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher
Running time: 1 hr 36 min