Film review: Evil Dead Rise

With a decade since the last instalment and three seasons of a successful TV show in the meantime, can this reimagining of the much-loved franchise possess an audience to go back to the cinema?

There will be blood… 6,500 litres of it actually, according to director Lee Cronin was used on set. Who after his last horror outing ‘The Hole in the Ground’ in 2019, landed a job with ‘Evil Dead Rise’, that his gore loving, inner 12 year old couldn’t believe. Produced by Sam Raimi, the director of the original ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy, Rise was originally going to be a streaming only release. However after initial test audiences reacted positively, it was given the go-ahead for a full blown cinematic release. Not surprising considering that the likes of ‘Scream’, ‘Halloween’ and ‘Hellraiser’ have all gotten the sequel/reboot treatment in recent years. 

Contrary to 2013’s soft reboot (simply named, ‘Evil Dead’) This time we see the horror jump from the isolated and claustrophobic cabin in the woods setting of previous films (minus a short prologue and possibly the best title card for a film I’ve ever seen), to a different kind of claustrophobic isolation with inner-city L.A. 

Beth (Lily Sullivan) decides to drop in on her estranged and recently divorced sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her 3 children after discovering something that is going to change her life. Before she can even unpack however, a mysterious earthquake exhumes a creepily familiar book, the ‘Necronomicon Ex-Mortis’ under their apartment building. It’s one of the three in-universe ‘books of the dead’, containing the ability to summon demons to wreak havoc upon the earth and whoever they come into contact with. 

After discovering the book (and some accompanying old vinyl records that warn of it), Ellie’s son Danny (Morgan Davies) unwittingly releases the evil. Trapped after the earthquake with no power or means of escape the family (and the other residents of the building) are quickly thrown into hellish survival mode, when their mother is the first to be possessed, in a scene disturbingly familiar to the original film’s infamous ‘tree sequence’.


Whereas the 2013 film chose to cut out all the Raimi-esque humour of the originals in favour of a much darker tone, ‘Rise’ manages to get the balance just right. Veering from chuckles to chopped limbs before you can catch your breath, director Cronin finds plenty of inventive and demented ways to keep the audience on their toes. The family apartment becomes a bloody flesh-filled funhouse, making great use of each of the rooms in several stand-out sequences. One particular scene with a cheese grater will have you wincing every time you reach for your kitchen appliances drawer. The special effects in the film feel horrendously tangible, keeping CGI to a bare minimum anchors it to its predecessors. Plus the sound design is just as ferocious as the deadites, this is certainly one to see in a packed cinema with the sound turned up to 11.

The cinematography is great and the dilapidated, grungy building almost serves as another character in the film, just like the original cabin did in the first ‘Evil Dead’. Los Angeles is the back drop, but the building may as well be on the moon as no help is coming, further lending to the feeling of hopelessness. The other residents of the cursed floor of the building are given little screen time or development and are pretty much there as meat puppets for demon Ellie to rip to shreds. Yes the focus should be on the family, but it feels like in order to keep runtime down, ancillary characters were maybe cleaved off to make room. 

As well as the aforementioned Danny, we also have siblings, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and little sister Kassie (Nell Fisher). Half of the film revolves around auntie Beth doing her best to keep her homicidal sister at bay, and towards the end of the film, (amongst many of the other subtle nods to other films like ‘The Shining’) you get serious ‘Aliens’ Ripley/Newt vibes from Beth and Kassie.

Lily Sullivan as Beth does her best here, but just like the 2013 film, these films have lacked an ‘Ash/Bruce Campbell’ like character to really cling onto. Sure times must move on, but so much of what made the original trilogy likeable was Raimi’s sense of humour and style, married with the over the top/underdog antics of Campbell’s Ash. Sure we got to relive a little of that in the ‘Ash Vs Evil Dead’ TV series, but that void has been felt in the last two films. Nostalgia whining aside though, Alyssa Sutherland really steals the show as Ellie, with her ultra-twisted demonic smile, she dominates the screen with her terrifying presence. 

By the final act the blood (and chainsaws) really start flying, almost to the point I felt a little desensitised to it all. I must admit in seeing the trailer some months ago, I assumed the film’s horror would be closer in tone to the creeping, well placed jump scares of the 2013 outing. But the chaotic energy of ‘Rise’ is what really propels it along more so than any amount of gore. If I were to put my overthinking cap on here, Ellie and her eldest children’s literal possession could be a subtle analogy for the depression they’re jointly feeling post-divorce and how easy it is to ‘let the bad thoughts in’. After all, the best kind of horror films always have an undertone of deeper meaning to give them more subconscious weight. 

Lee Cronin and team have really succeeded here in bringing this twisted tale to life. Cronin’s clear love of the franchise, coupled with his understanding and passion for the genre, will have the hard core fans joyfully shouting “Groovy” for years to come.