Evil Dead Rise review: A diabolical concoction that provides blood by the bucketful

Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise is its own diabolical concoction, mindful of its cinematic legacy yet happy to override the rules in any way it sees fit. It’s the fifth instalment in the long-running horror franchise but not really a sequel. Nor is it a fully-fledged reboot of Sam Raimi’s electric 1981 original. Though Fede Álvarez took largely the same approach in his efficient and brutal “re-imagining” from 2013, Cronin’s is the more daring film. Álvarez still tied his story to a cabin in the woods, five oblivious young adults and a dark cellar concealing ageless malice. Cronin borrows only a few familiar cues from Raimi’s original – some familiar chanting, the same insidious sound design, the favoured chainsaw of Bruce Campbell’s final boy, Ash – while relocating events to downtown Los Angeles.

Tattoo artist Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is close to finally moving out of the dilapidated bank turned apartment complex she shares with her three kids, Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Kassie (Nell Fisher). They’re a mildly bohemian clan, their household busy with vinyl records and protest signs, though the film never overstates their unconventionality. In fact, they’re just about as emotionally oppressed as the average suburban, nuclear family – a dynamic that becomes crystal clear upon the arrival of Ellie’s semi-estranged sister, guitar technician Beth (Lily Sullivan).

Any latent tension between the siblings belches up to the surface when – oopsie – an earthquake unearths a hidden vault, home to an ancient tome known as the “Necronomicon Ex-Mortis”. Bound by human skin, its pages contain the necessary spells to summon all sorts of infernal beings, each united by a single-minded desire to wreak bloody mayhem on Earth. The inevitable happens. And the demons, this time around, make quick work of Mommy’s soul.

Evil Dead Rise provides blood by the bucketful without ever crossing the line into outright cruelty. It’s one thing to corral together a few hot, young scream queens and kings to dissect on screen, quite another to show a possessed mother tormenting her own children. Limbs are torn out of their sockets; cheese graters and scissors become nausea-inducing weapons.

​​Cronin’s script forces both Ellie and Beth to wrestle with the burdens and expectations of motherhood. It’s an attempt at thematic unity that never stands out from, well, the hundreds of other horror films that are “secretly about” the burdens and expectations of motherhood, including Cronin’s own 2019 debut, The Hole in the Ground. What the Irish film-maker does far more effectively, though, is turn a fairly innocuous expression of parental affection – “I wish I could cut you open and climb inside your bodies so we could stay one happy family” – into grotesque, grimly comic reality. As Cronin clearly understands, all you really need for a good Evil Dead film is one fiendish imagination.

Dir: Lee Cronin. Starring: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher. 18, 97 minutes.

‘Evil Dead Rise’ is in cinemas from 21 April

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