Sometimes you want a horror movie to provide the blood and guts. Fans of the Evil Dead series have long proven their affinity for it. Documentaries have chronicled the intense fandom around horror comedies. There’s a case to be made that Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn might be the greatest horror film of the last forty years. Yet the franchise has not appeared in theaters for nearly a decade. Lucky for us, Lee Cronin‘s Evil Dead Rise was well worth the wait. One of the most emotionally taxing films in the franchise yet, Cronin delivers one of the most complete films in the franchise.
Guitar and music technician Beth (Lily Sullivan) visits her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) when the band she tours with stops in LA. Ellie lives with her three kids Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies), and Kassie (Nell Fisher). After her husband left her, the last two months have been extraordinarily difficult for Ellie. After an earthquake opens a hole in the parking garage of their building, Danny descends through a crevice. There, he finds a unique book bound in human flesh, as well as records that translate its writings.
Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi help produce the film, but letting Cronin cook brings incredible results. Cronin proves more than up to the stylistic challenge of reviving Evil Dead. Transporting the battle from its traditional rural setting allows Cronin to bring a unique color palette to the series for the first time. While we’ve seen shadows used before, there’s something about the ways that Cronin allows the Deadites to roam that feels wholly unique.
There’s also an obsession with manual tech, despite the modern setting. Vinyl records are strewn throughout Danny’s room. Handmade crosses rest over a stone gravesite. Physical shards of glass push through skin and bone. A tattoo gun and cheese grater play into the violence. Yet the visceral thud of bodies slamming into walls and blood leaking from the walls bring a disturbing tactility to the visuals.
Cronin and cinematographer Dave Garbett use color and clever cinematography to their advantage. Electricity shorts out, so the family lights rooms with candlelight. The neon of Los Angeles and lightning flashes from a storm shine in through the windows. They utilize extreme close-ups often, not only on characters but on base-pounding amps and fast-moving needles. Most importantly, if you want blood, you’ve got it. The ways he utilizes split diopters create masterful flourishes of color in grimly lit foregrounds. He draws on the visual template established by Raimi and still makes the most visually unique entry in the franchise.
Production design and art crew need to take a bow as well. Nick Bassett, Gareth Edwards, Nick Connor, and Sarah Voon bring the world to life. There are easter eggs, yes, but there are some genuinely beautiful touches. Garbett explores the space of the apartment throughout, allowing subtle design choices to spell the difference between life and death. The makeup team is simply outstanding. They provide some of the best horror makeup we’ve seen in years. To cap it all off, Bryan Shaw‘s relentless pacing allows for only moments of reprieve before tossing us back into the battle. It’s effective while avoiding overstimulating the audience.
With all the beautiful horror craft on display, you’ll be transported. Yet it’s the cast that breathes life into Cronin’s screenplay. Sutherland’s incredible performance as a Deadite mother makes for an instant horror icon. Her line delivers will scare you to death, but it’s the physical morphing of her body that truly unnerves. Meanwhile, Sullivan’s grit and determination to save her nieces and nephews oozes out of her performance. Most impressively, she plays the process of grieving her sister while also trying to fight her off. The cast periodically struggles with American accents (Evil Dead Rise shot in New Zealand), but they never fail to sell the emotional beats.
Cronin’s screenplay crackles to life with some truly dark moments. Like the best moments in the franchise, every deadite quip cuts deep and often on multiple levels. These Deadites love torturing the other characters, and the attack on their mental state becomes almost as devasting as the gore. We get callbacks to some fan-favorite lines, but the demands of parenthood flow through the story. On film, the series has not really tackled this idea (and only in the last season of the show). It becomes the heartbeat of Evil Dead Rise and ties us to these new characters.
Horror fans will rejoice, and casual audiences will squirm. Yet Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise stands a good chance at wholly reviving this franchise. For those with weak stomachs, this Evil Dead entry will test your limits. Creative kills, brutal violence, and great performances help this one land as one of our early horror favorites in 2023.