Evil Dead Rise Has a Lot of Blood But Little Heart

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We know one thing—two, actually—about writer/director Lee Cronin after watching Evil Dead Rise, the fifth installment in this long-lasting horror franchise and Cronin’s debut in the series. First, he clearly seems to love the Evil Dead franchise, as evident from the numerous callbacks and homages to Sam Raimi’s earlier classics. And second, he loves The Shining, as he throws a handful of cinematic tributes to Stanley Kubrick’s genre landmark into the mix as well (you’ll know then when you see them).

Why? We’re not exactly sure, since Kubrick’s expensive studio masterpiece and Raimi’s DIY indie scrappers are about as far apart as one can get in this genre. One thing that both have, however, is a vision, and frankly the jury is still out on whether Cronin has one as well.

The Irish-born Cronin got the plum gig of directing the first Evil Dead feature in a decade thanks to his 2019 feature debut, The Hole in the Ground, an atmospheric chiller about a single mother who believes her son is not her son, but a shapeshifting creature that lurks in a nearby sinkhole. A single mom is at the center of Evil Dead Rise as well; Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is a tattoo artist trying to get over her husband’s departure and raising her three kids alone, in what has to be the darkest, dankest apartment in all of L.A.

Before we meet Ellie and family, however, there’s a brief, creepy prologue at a cabin by a lake—the last time we see anything resembling the famous little bungalow from the original Evil Dead, its sequel, or its 2013 remake. Evil Dead Rise gives the franchise a new coat of (peeling) paint by taking it out of the woods and placing it in a high-rise, but why make the apartment and the building (which is condemned) so goddamn ominous? A really radical idea would be to place this story in a sunny condo in Santa Monica, instead of this indeterminate, heavily rainy corner of the City of Angels right out of Blade Runner.

The real main character of Evil Dead Rise is Ellie’s sister Beth (Lily Sullivan), a guitar tech for a rock band who runs to her sister’s place when she finds out that she’s pregnant (it’s implied that this isn’t the first time). Beth is supposed to be the screw-up in the family, although she seems competent enough, and she’s forced to step up when Ellie’s teen son Danny (Morgan Davies) unearths a certain Book-Of-You-Know-What from ruins beneath the apartment building that emerge after an earthquake. All hell, of course, breaks loose.

In addition to digging the book out of a vault beneath the parking garage, Danny also plays the accompanying vinyl record featuring a recitation of one of the book’s spells. Cue the title entity, which immediately takes possession of Ellie, making her face all veiny and giving her the ability to climb walls backwards. There is something truly horrifying about a mom—almost always the rock of every family—being inhabited by a screaming demon that wants to kill her kids, and Sutherland plays it for all its worth. But Cronin never explores that deep under the surface to get at the implications of this.

Still, Evil Dead Rise is fun in fits and starts. The gore is plentiful as Ellie (soon joined by other possessed victims) mows down several of the neighbors and turns both the apartment and the hallway outside into a literal slip-n-slide of viscera and blood. There are trademark frenzied camera movements right out of the Raimi playbook and some equally Sam-worthy cartoonish moments, such as when one person’s eyeball is popped out of their head and hurled into another poor sap’s mouth. There are lots of other stabbings, impalements, burnings, and mutilations to pass the time as well.

Say what you will about Raimi’s trilogy, and particularly the divergent Army of Darkness, but at least he didn’t rest on his laurels. Cronin is doing just that here, albeit resting on Raimi’s laurel and not his own. Evil Dead Rise, like The Hole in the Ground, is steeped in shadows and atmosphere, but lacking in real connection. Sullivan is an appealing heroine, but without a force of nature like Bruce Campbell’s Ash at its center, the thin story is just a series of obvious setups and payoffs, largely lacking in real scares or suspense (even if a bloodied Beth wields a chainsaw near the end, although not as an extension of her own arm).

There was also a real passion in the earlier films, loads of quirky humor, and a sense of “we can do this” that filtered through the low-budget, down-to-the-ground production values. Evil Dead Rise is a modestly more expensive, glossier studio creation, designed only to extend existing IP. It is certainly a rollercoaster ride and will probably play like gangbusters in a packed multiplex auditorium, but aside from its fleeting stabs at saying something about motherhood (the relationship between Beth and her young niece, Cassie, has strong Ripley/Newt vibes), it ultimately just serves to set up the next installment. The evil dead may keep rising, but they are getting more soulless with time.

Evil Dead Rise is out in theaters now.

The post Evil Dead Rise Has a Lot of Blood But Little Heart appeared first on Den of Geek.

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