Evil Dead Rise REVIEW – A Blood-Soaked Disappointment
The most damning thing that can be said about Evil Dead Rise, the fifth film in the Evil Dead franchise following 2013’s loose remake of the 1981 classic, is that its opening sequence is the best scene in the movie. It’s not only damning because any film that’s all downhill from the beginning clearly made some mistakes, but more importantly, the opening is the only part of the movie that takes place at the series’ usual cabin in the woods setting. The opening sequence delivers two wonderfully gory deaths, a very creepy reading of a passage from Wuthering Heights, and a title card shot that’s by far the best part of the film.
The rest of the movie relocates the story to a high-rise apartment in Los Angeles, an exciting and novel setting for a movie in this series, but largely fails to capitalize on that move by locking the action down to one apartment. That action begins after an earthquake strikes, allowing one of the teens of the family at the center of the film to discover a book of the dead in a long forgotten bank vault. Along with the book, he discovers century old vinyl that he immediately plays on his turntable and, as expected, accidentally summons the series’ body possessing demonic entities known as deadites.
So far so good for an Evil Dead movie. But soon after mom Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is possessed, she’s locked out of the apartment and the film falls into a narrative stagnation that lasts for most of its runtime.
It’s understandable that writer/director Lee Cronin would want to lock down the action. It’s a staple of Evil Dead films that they take place entirely in one location, but the choice to move the action to a new place should mean that the film takes advantage of that new setting. Some scenes do, including a bold quoting of The Shining towards the end of the film after an elevator fills with blood, but the majority of Evil Dead Rise squanders its setting.
This happens particularly with the deaths of characters who live on the same floor as the central family. They’re all killed off screen to the sounds of bones crunching and flesh ripping. That would be fine in a film that clearly doesn’t have an interest in showing the gory details, but the joy of an Evil Dead film is the gore. To relegate the deaths of several characters to somewhere out of view feels not only silly, but like a waste of the film’s setting in a more populated place.
Luckily, we’re still treated to some satisfying on screen gore. There’s great use of a chainsaw, scissors, and a woodchipper over the course of Rise. But the connective tissue between these scenes falls flat, and not only when it comes to narrative momentum. The story of a newly pregnant woman visiting her sister, nieces, and nephew who then come under attack places an uncomfortable focus on traditional familial relationships that’s absent from every other movie in the series. That focus only becomes more distracting, and frankly upsetting, when the film essentially takes a firm pro-life stance without any need to do so.
It’s also disappointing, but hilariously so, that activist daughter Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) has a “Feminism Isn’t a Dirty Word” poster on her door in 2023. More realistically this character would have a “Protect Trans Kids” poster at this point in time, which makes the film feel like it’s pulling punches. That’s all the more confusing given that the film stars out trans actor Morgan Davies as the older brother who accidentally unleashes evil upon his family. Of course, the film never specifies that the character is trans in-universe, allowing it to have its extra textual representation cake and eat it too by not ruffling the feathers of any viewers who might not know about the actor’s gender-identity.
Evil Dead Rise delivers the gory goods, but it doesn’t succeed on any other level and in fact fails spectacularly in a few ways. Some fans may be happy with the gore, but I was left wanting a lot more.
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Evil Dead Rise fails to provide any narrative momentum and plays a frustrating game of hollow representation, but it does deliver on the gore.
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