Hey everyone. It’s really been a while since I last blogged. Apologies for that. Work has been the busiest it’s been in quite some time. And I was working on something (that I will mention soon). But the time off has given me a lot to think about. Suffice to say, I will try from now on to deliver on the posts that I want to see. It’s easier said then done but writing for others has made me lose sight of that simple notion. There’s no point in just sprucing up your house when guests come along, you have to maintain it at all times. The same could be said for my upkeep of the blog and writing (at large at the moment).
But terrible metaphors aside, let’s get to the film of the day. I tend to say this about a lot of films these days, but Evil Dead Rise has truly felt as though it has snuck up on me. While I’ve had the idea of this film in the back of my mind, it’s only in the last few weeks that I became acutely aware of its existence. I even embarrassingly forgot to include it on my top ten most anticipated films of 2023. To quote the Pharoah from YGOTAS, “Dick move, bro!” So, with that said, have you seen Evil Dead Rise? If not, are you planning to see it this weekend? Let me know in the comments below.
And if you like my ramblings on horror then you can read more at my second home, Horror Obsessive. My recent post on there is a review of the remake of Resident Evil 4. It’s my first ever video game review and a genuine labor of love for a title that’s meant a lot to me.
The Evil Dead was a formative horror movie for me. When I saw it at age 18 during my first year of University, I was shocked by its purity as a horror movie in the sense that most movies within the genre play by the rules of set-up and characterization. However, much like a rabid and rage-fueled dog, the 1981 picture unshackled itself from all that pretence and delivered an unrelenting ride of low-budget thrills and scares. Despite the infamous sequence (involving the tree) that arguably got the film on the Video Nasty list in the UK, I never found the movie to be mean-spirited or nasty for the sake of it. Instead, director Sam Raimi had the puckishness of an adolescent who wished to say he got the audience good.
It was this quality that came to define later entries. Evil Dead 2’s semi-remake nature was imbued with a comedic edge that brought a great deal of zaniness and love of early cinema. It’s an effort that greatly carries a certain history of the medium. Army of Darkness is an outlier insofar as being a vehicle for Bruce Campbell to schmooze his way through a Medieval England that feels at home in an early Terry Gilliam movie. And the 2013 remake is a slick and dramatic retelling of the first film. It’s remarkable for arguably being an elevated horror movie, with its depiction of the blurred line between Mia’s (Jane Levy) drug withdrawal and demonic possession.
The fifth Evil Dead confidently rises to the occasion of its franchise legacy with an entry that emphasizes the sheer psychological terror of its domestic and familial setting.
Evil Dead Rise tells the story of Beth (Lily Sullivan), an indie music technician who returns to see her sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), who is raising three kids by herself. They are youngest daughter, Kassie (Nell Fisher), middle child, Danny (Morgan Davies) and eldest daughter, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols). After surviving a mild earthquake, Danny finds an ancient book hidden beneath the depths of his high-rise home. Little does he know that the records of passages from the book hold a sinister curse that will bring ruin to his family.
Part of the uniqueness of the Evil Dead franchise is that each instalment is a riff on its simple premise of demons being summoned via the Necronomicon (aka Book of the Dead). Much of my delight during the movie came from sequences that played on familiar notes in new and unique ways.
From the protracted opening fast-motion demon point of view shot to the possession scene taking place in a lift, Rise easily subverts the standard tenants of the franchise. But the emphasis in the subversions made the experience interesting.
Rise has a tactile quality that makes its horror quite appealing. In fact, this aspect is best illustrated in the scenes where characters are listening to records of the Book of the Dead being found while gently massaging the center of the vinyl to keep the audio logs going. This also extends to the setting that’s creatively used.
The typical trapping of the central demon being locked in the cellar by the survivors is updated here to be outside an apartment. And our glimpse of the creature comes from a small mirror built into the front door. These point-of-view shots whereby we’re seeing the demon unleash upon unsuspecting neighbours embrace the found footage genre that ruled the early 2000s. Along with gnarly imagery later in the film that evokes the body horror of the Human Centipede, Rise is on the pulse of the horror that fueled it, much like the early cinematic comedies that inspired Sam Raimi’s 1987 sequel.
But beyond its tactile and subversive power, Rise comes closest to the psychological horror that’s lurked beneath the surface of the famed horror franchise. This comes from the domestic situation that’s presented to the audience. By having Ellie as the central victim of demonic possession, Rise plays on the primal fear of maternal harm and spurned affection. This quality is juxtaposed with Beth who is about to become a Mum and now has to rise to the challenge of looking after and protecting her sister’s kids.
In fact, in the movie’s most touching moment, Kassie says to Beth that she will be a great Mum because she knows how to lie to kids. The screenplay has many moments like this that do not talk down to kids but instead realistically shows how they can pick up on the stressed emotions going on around them. Writer/director Lee Cronin punctuates these heartfelt scenes with moments that are directed as though some of the demons are the figment of a feverish childhood dream. One memorable scene is when one of the demons (covered in blankets) floats across the space like a ghost. Cronin’s use of long shots give these scenes an eerie edge.
Cronin juxtaposes this with visceral camera moves whether it’s sped-up footage of Beth running to save Kassie that’s meant to evoke the frenetic demon point-of-view shots or shaky first-person shots that end the movie. Lily Sullivan is appealing as a determined mother to be, who will stop at nothing to protect her nephew and nieces. And Alyssa Sutherland is terrifying in her flickering states of being an attentive mother and a monstrous demonic presence.
If there’s one problem that permeates the movie it’s some of the sound design that occasionally drowns out the dialogue. And many scenes do rely on an annoying problem that plagues many modern horror movies namely using loud noises to deliver their scares. While Evil Dead can somewhat get a pass on this based on the over-the-top nature of its prior instalments, I still found it tiresome that Rise constantly attempts to break the sound barrier.