Trailers are meant to hype you up for the films. Since action movies have a lot of explosive stuff to offer, their trailers often elicit the wildest reactions. If you ask me, my all-time favorite is (or maybe was) the “Friction” trailer for “Mission: Impossible: Fallout.” But when it comes to horror movies, editors are tasked with not revealing all the scares while ensuring that the audience knows that it’s packed wall-to-wall with the stuff of nightmares. And if they lean too much on either side of the line, it runs the danger of turning people off. “Evil Dead Rise” is an outlier in that aspect, as it not only made me rewatch its “Que Sera, Sera” trailer multiple times, but I also punched the air and cheered when Alyssa Sutherland let out that primal scream. Additionally, Bruce Campbell increased my excitement via an interview with But Why Tho? by saying that the latest chapter of the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis won’t have any of that elevated horror nonsense. Well, now that I’ve watched, nay, experienced “Evil Dead Rise,” it’s safe to say that every perceivable expectation of mine has been surpassed.
“Evil Dead Rise” opens in a cabin in the woods where three friends, Teresa, Jessica, and Caleb, have come on a vacation. Jessica gets possessed. She rips off Teresa’s scalp and then beheads Caleb. Post that, a horrified Teresa watches as Jessica levitates over the lake beside the cabin, and we get one of the raddest title reveals of all time. Yes, it made me cheer. The narrative then shifts to Beth, someone who works as a technician in underground bands, as she goes to visit her sister Ellie and her three children, Kassie, Bridget, and Danny, who live in a decrepit apartment complex.
Things are tense upon arrival as Ellie’s husband has left her, and due to the state of the building, they’ve to vacate the place. But when Beth realizes that she wasn’t there for Ellie when she needed her the most, things get awkward. The kids are sent away to get some food and drinks while the sisters hash it out. And just when things start to look up, a massive earthquake opens up a hole in the ground. Danny notices that it leads to a basement, which is obviously home to the Book of the Dead and the voice recordings of the priest who tried to explore it. Instead of letting it lie there, Danny unknowingly beckons true evil. What happens next is one for the history books.
I think Lee Cronin was aware of the fact that people were getting a little too proud of their ability to stomach fake blood, gore, and puke. You’d find me going around laughing at people for shying away from the genre because of a few jump scares. With “Evil Dead Rise,” he has put me in my place by triggering my gag reflex and breaking my threshold for tolerating terrifying visuals. The images and sounds that Cronin and his team of amazing artists conjure can be termed “nightmare fuel.” Production designer Nick Bassett, set decorator Gareth Edwards, and art director Nick Connor give the apartment a very lived-in feeling. Every nook and cranny has a bit of history and character that’s about to be burned, drowned in vomit, or soaked in blood.
The use of household items is insane. I’m not going to see a grater the same way again. Dave Garbett’s low-light cinematography and split-diopter shots are sweet. Bryan Shaw’s editing is stupendous, as he wrings the most out of every deliciously frightening moment. Stephen McKeon’s music is always in service of the tone. The costume design by Sarah Voon (where every character’s dress goes from dry to drenched in blood), the practical effects, the visual effects, and the sound design are worthy of all the awards in the world. And although all of that can feel unhinged and chaotic, it requires a level of precision and control that Cronin evidently has in spades.
But what is Cronin trying to say through the story? The first two “Evil Dead” movies didn’t have any themes or messages. They had a pretty straightforward plot that involved an evil entity and a bunch of ignorant people who would be possessed by them. The third film, “Army of Darkness,” was the first in the series that gave its protagonist, Ash, a proper arc where he got to become the hero he always thought he was. 2013’s “Evil Dead” merged drug abuse with the horrors of “Naturom Demonto.” “Evil Dead Rises” oscillates between honoring the campy vibe of the original trilogy and telling a story about a family going through a tumultuous time, albeit in the most messed-up way possible.
Although it isn’t mentioned very explicitly, Ellie is clearly in a bad place because she has to take care of her three children while dealing with her growing abandonment issues. Meanwhile, Beth is about to become a mother, which is something that is highlighted multiple times. So, the events initiated by Danny bring Ellie’s worst nightmares to the fore and prepare Beth for motherhood. I mean, it’s not supposed to be taken that literally because Cronin pushes the concept of “sticking with your family” to its extreme. However, underneath all the crushed bones and chunks of flesh, I think that is what the film is talking about.
When it comes to the magnificent performances, everyone in the main cast has knocked it out of the park. Alyssa Sutherland had me quivering in my theater chair. The things that she can do with her face, body, and voice are unnatural, but in a good way. Of course, there’s a lot of make-up, prosthetics, and visual effects that accentuate her performance. But even if she didn’t have all that, I feel that she would’ve sent me running all the way to my home. The way she says that she can be fixed with a hug and a kiss and that her soul is with the maggots is burned into my brain.
Lily Sullivan is superheroic but in an incredibly realistic way. You can see that she’s scared to her bones. However, she has to be brave for the children’s sake. And that dichotomy is so palpable in every scene. No points for guessing that I was cheering for her when she picked up the chainsaw. Gabrielle Echols is good as a human and even better as a Deadite. Morgan Davies as Danny is so tragic, and you do feel for him as his fear consumes him way before the evil touches him. Nell Fisher as Kassie is so brilliant that I wanted to jump into the screen and get her out of that wretched building. The rest of the supporting cast are on screen for around 2 minutes each, but they make every second count.
At the end of “Evil Dead Rise,” Lee Cronin bathed every inch of the frame like Stanley Kubrick did in “The Shining,” he (probably) paid homage to Neill Blomkamp’s “Zygote,” he tipped his hat to the great Sam Raimi, and it felt like some kind of cinematic religious experience. As I sat through the credits, I genuinely felt a stream of energy coursing through my veins, and that told me I had just watched something sinister and masterful. It’s obviously one of the best horror films of all time, and I seriously think it’s one of the best family films of all time. If you are an adult and your kids are 18 years of age or older, I think you should watch it together. I have a feeling that it will increase your sense of unity. It’s okay if you want to watch it with your friend or by yourself. But please ensure that the theater is somewhat filled because the audience’s reactions will only improve your viewing experience. And once you are done forming your own opinion on “Evil Dead Rise,” feel free to let us know all about it.