'Evil Dead Rise' Review: An Anonymous Gorefest (2024)

Paralysis often grips remakes. Directors of such films don’t usually like to try new things because that would negate the point of regurgitating an old idea, which they don’t want to embrace too heartily either, as they’re cowed by the reputation of the material that they’re handling. These films are supposed to be new in an old way or maybe vice versa, and such an awkward, often meaningless assignment mostly just benefits a studio’s ledgers.

So it is with Evil Dead Rise. Writer-director Lee Cronin adequately goes through the motions, mounting a competent possession thriller with none of the personality of Sam Raimi’s 1981 shocker The Evil Dead and the two sequels that it spawned. Without Raimi’s gleeful splatter-comic soulfulness and Bruce Campbell’s everyman goofball charisma, the Evil Dead property is just a grab bag of tropes that could appear in any random horror movie.

Cronin leans hard into the anonymity of the setup, setting his Evil Dead in a dilapidated apartment high-rise that suggests a haunted house attraction at a theme park, or a wax museum variant of the Overlook from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which is quoted again late in the film in a much more overt way. Vincent Price’s movies with William Castle had settings with a greater sense of verisimilitude, and this Nowheresville backlot immediately locks Evil Dead Rise into a self-cannibalizing echo chamber. Compare that to the memorable cabin of the original Evil Dead, which resembles the cabin of many a broke young adult’s vacations, or the chillingly everyday woods of Cronin’s vastly more resonant The Hole in the Ground.

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Asking for verisimilitude may sound silly in the context of movies that involve a book of the dead resurrecting demons who take over the bodies of the living, but it matters. Raimi’s Evil Dead had a sense of place and abounded in tactile textures that remain unnerving. A shot in Raimi’s film of a ghoul stabbing a character in the ankle with a pencil is more shocking than anything Cronin springs throughout Evil Dead Rise. The latex masks of the monsters that Raimi fashioned might not seem “real,” but they felt truly present and truly alien, which is more than can be said of the dime-a-dozen CGI-assisted creepy crawlies in Cronin’s film.

'Evil Dead Rise' Review: An Anonymous Gorefest (1)

There’s also the issue of how seriously remakes are now required to take their beloved intellectual properties. There’s no sense of escalation, invention, and one-upmanship in Evil Dead Rise. Taking a tonal cue from Fede Álvarez’s Evil Dead, the 2013 re-imagining of Raimi’s original, Cronin serves up considerable gore with monotonous, po-faced earnestness.

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Most disappointing is Cronin’s refusal to make use of his urban setting. The high-rise here is just a backdrop for a bout of cabin fever, as the protagonists’ few neighbors are quickly cordoned off or dispatched with. There’s no sense of people bonding to survive or fraying from the stress of an unimaginable menace. They simply, stolidly carry forth with their duty of dodging and stabbing and chasing. Raimi’s films are often discussed as comedies, but the original Evil Dead takes the dissolution of its core group seriously, as we feel the fear of friends falling apart.

By contrast, Evil Dead Rise’s characters are stick figures with signifiers that are forgotten once the dead begin to wreak havoc. Beth (Lily Sullivan) returns from life as a roadie to visit her sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a single mother with three children, Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and Kassie (Bell Fisher). Ellie is possessed first, which one hopes would afford Cronin the chance to mine the maternal anxieties that coursed through The Hole in the Ground, but the relationships between the characters here barely scan on even rudimentary genre-film levels. Imagine the terror and heartbreak of your mother trying to kill you. Cronin doesn’t, and so the first third of Evil Dead Rise is reduced to expository table-setting.

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The fake-out of Evil Dead Rise’s clever prologue is revealed in hindsight to be a mistake, promising a movie more ingenious than the one that Cronin delivers. In the film’s opening minutes, the director seems to be saying that Evil Dead Rise will not be business as usual, that he’s willing to fiddle with the playbook. If only. Evil Dead Retreats is more like it.

Score:

Cast: Lilly Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Gabrielle Echols, Morgan Davies, Nell Fisher, Mirabai Pease, Anna-Maree Thomas, Noah Paul, Billy Reynolds-McCarthy, Jayden Daniels Director: Lee Cronin Screenwriter: Lee Cronin Distributor: Warner Bros. Running Time: 97 min Rating: R Year: 2023 Buy: Video

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'Evil Dead Rise' Review: An Anonymous Gorefest (2024)
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