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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Evil Dead Rise // Film Review

When is a film too cruel to its characters?

Evil Dead is not a franchise known for its triumphant victories. Whenever Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) manages to cut his way through a horde of deadites, the next round of haunting is only ever a sprinting shaky cam away. Indeed, Campbell filmed about half the original film (Sam Raimi, 1981) with stand-ins for the corpses of his already-deceased ensemble. And yet, Ash does persevere. His chainsaw hand and bloody blue shirt are iconic because this is a man who remains sharp, witty and lovely in spite of an infinity of torment. Over time, he has become a symbol of hope in a series fixated on relentless death.

Evil Dead Rise (Lee Cronin, 2023), which stands unquestionably as the franchise's nastiest and most mean-spirited entry to date, imagines a world without Ash Williams. It isn't the first to do so, with Evil Dead (Fede Álvarez, 2013) serving as a previous attempt to revitalise the franchise, though even that film couldn't resist teasing Ash in its closing moments.

What Cronin does in this newest entry however, is isolate its characters in a location somehow even more claustrophobic than the iconic cabin. Beth (Lily Sullivan) is visiting her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), plus her three kids, in their Los Angeles apartment building. Inevitably, the discovery of a new volume from the Book of the Dead - now on vinyl - summons an onslaught of demons who lay siege to the building, trapping Beth and the family on their apartment floor with no plan or hope for escape.

The film opens with a clever spin on the franchise's aforementioned shaky cam signature, before laboriously working through twenty minutes of awkward character set-up (much is made of Ellie's sewing machine - this will be important later!). From the moment that unsuspecting teen Danny (Morgan Davies) takes the latest Naturom Demonto for a spin however, Cronin reveals the necessity of this pondering breathing space. Once the action gets going in Evil Dead Rise, there is no reprieve. Not among the living, anyway.

The horrors in store take place largely in real time, as family members drop like flies to the gruesome schemes of their unholy attackers. Eyes are prodded, glass chewed and legs grated like cheese; this is the kind of picture where blood spills so fast and so often that it is damn near impossible to appreciate every violent ingenuity in one sitting. Cronin's excellent use of practical effects pushes the human body to its breaking point and then some on more than one occasion, with sillier spectacles like wood chippers and 'Kubrickian' elevators spliced throughout to keep us on the right side of torture porn.

One character does emerge as an Ash-equivalent, offering some kind of pragmatism as an alternate to the endless screaming, however their victories always feel ineffective, earning them at most five additional minutes of life even in the film's closing throws. With Evil Dead Rise, Cronin has created a truly unwinnable scenario, and our hero's journey is only to decide how long they can keep fighting.

This pessimism is perhaps Cronin's most distinctive contribution to the franchise as a whole. Whereas Raimi and Campbell were certainly averse to happy endings (famously Army of Darkness (1992) had its ending changed due to concerns of being too depressing), Ash was always on hand to diffuse the nastiness with a quip or a comic sigh in disbelief. The characters of Evil Dead Rise are more aware of their imminent doom, and react accordingly. But really, can you blame them?


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