Evil Dead Rise review: Franchise evolves in this brutal assault on the senses

Evil Dead Rise takes the beloved franchise out of the woods and into the city, but by substituting a cabin for an apartment, that sense of stark, raw horror hasn’t been lost. Making this one of the best entries in the series, and one that introduces a badass horror heroine for the ages.

The Evil Dead franchise is little short of a miracle. The first film was cobbled together by director Sam Raimi, produce Rob Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell. They made it on a shoestring budget. The shoot was a nightmare for everyone involved. And the release was prolonged and painful, the film even being banned in the UK as a so-called “video nasty.”

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But when it finally saw the light of day, The Evil Dead was a hit. And spawned sequel Evil Dead II, which retold the same story, but leaned into comedy as much as horror. While it initially flopped in cinemas, the film found a new lease of life on video, on its way to becoming one of the most beloved scary movies of all-time. The likes of Peter Jackson, Eli Roth, and Edgar Wright cite Evil Dead II as a key influence, while it regularly loiters at the top of all-time horror lists.

A third film followed that sent the story back in time, and didn’t have quite the same impact. Then a 2013 reboot saw writer Rodo Sayagues and director Fede Alvarez return the franchise to that cabin in the woods, in the process crafting one of the scariest movies of the last decade. Meaning the bar has been set high for anyone attempting a new Evil Dead.

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What’s Evil Dead Rise about?

The fifth film in this disjointed franchise tries something different. The movie starts out by a cabin in some woods, admittedly. But after a somewhat pointless prologue that feels more like fan service than anything meaningful to this narrative, the story relocates to a dilapidated apartment building in downtown Los Angeles.

Newly single tattoo artist Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) lives there with her three kids – teenagers Danny (Morgan Davies) and Bridget (Garielle Echols), as well as their adorable kid sister Kassie (Nell Fisher). Though not for long, as the family is being forced out due to the ramshackle building being demolished.

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While they are dealing with that stress, Ellie’s own kid sister Beth visits. Though it’s far from a happy family reunion, as while Beth works as a guitar technician, Ellie sees her a little more than a groupie and screw-up. Which causes understandable tension, even before an earthquake rocks their world.

There’s a lot to process in these early scenes, as that tremor underneath the high-rise opens a hole in the basement, where the family finds a book in a box. At which point Evil Dead Rise can stop building back-story, and start proper.

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Book of the Dead-ites

That book is the Necronomicon, AKA the Book of the Dead, which is central to releasing the titular evil in each of the previous movies, and no different here. Though the delivery method is new, as this iteration has actual teeth, and is accompanied by a record that has Kandarian Incantations pressed into its grooves.

In spite of seeming like a very bad idea, the book is opened and the record played by aspiring DJ Danny. Meaning demons are unleashed, and are soon possessing the living like illustrations in the terrifying tome.

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Ellie is first to be turned. Meaning she then turns on her children, her Deadite form tormenting and terrifying the offspring while laughing her head off.

This triggers sick and twisted interactions for the rest of the film. Her youngest says “you don’t look so good mom,” which is something of an understatement. Ellie responds by claiming she wants to cut her kids open and climb inside their bodies so they can be one happy family. Which is one of her more polite ripostes.

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It also means Beth can no longer rely on her big sister, and instead has to step up and take charge. Which not only sends her character on a classic hero’s journey, but also gives her a guilt-ridden arc, as Beth does battle with her sister verbally at the start of the movie, then literally as proceedings progress.

Bloody murder

With the demons unleashed, writer-director Lee Cronin has them cause carnage in and around the apartment – the first time we’ve seen Deadites kill in such a domestic setting.

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Set-pieces play out in the kitchen and bathroom, as well as a lift, the latter righting a controversial wrong from the first Evil Dead movie, while also giving new meaning to the term “elevated horror.” The setting is useful, as neighbors become disposable victims when action moves into the corridors of the complex.

Rather than bridges and roads being flooded and destroyed – as happens in the previous Evil Deads – the building itself crumbles, making escape impossible. So non-Deadites are forced to turn everyday objects into improvised weapons, with a cheese grater doing damage, and Chekov’s tattoo needle coming into play. A chainsaw is also brandished in bloody fashion. Because it wouldn’t be Evil Dead without a chainsaw.

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And while there are lots of throwbacks like that to the previous movies – from Deadites pretending to be human, to a shout of “Dead by Dawn,” to the camera using a demonic POV vision – the kills feel fresh and original, as mutilation follows dismemberment and decapitation in ferocious fashion.

The Verdict – Is Evil Dead Rise good?

The early Evil Dead movies weren’t concerned with character development. Indeed, they weren’t really bothered about character at all, with protagonist Ash Williams a cartoon character made human, surrounded by expendable cardboard cut-outs. This made for fun rollercoaster rides, but inspired little in the way of emotional investment from audiences.

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2013’s Evil Dead added logic and common sense to the mix, but also had viewers caring about the characters and their predicament. Which is why that movie worked so well. Lee Cronin’s effort does much the same, creating nuanced characters, and giving them complicated interpersonal dynamics early in the story, which really pay off when the proverbial hits the fan.

And hit it does, with Evil Dead Rise throwing mental and physical trauma at its characters for the best part of an hour. But the horror feels earned. While the actors all rise to the occasion, with the kids believable, Alyssa Sutherland becoming a memorable monster, and Lily Sullivan turning into a compelling Final Girl; it’s genuinely exhilarating watching her transform from loser to protector and then ultimately into kick-ass warrior.

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Evil Dead Rise review score: 4/5

Evil Dead Rise is a brutal assault on the senses, which means it’s a lot like its predecessors. But the kills are great, the scares effective, and Beth deserves to take her place alongside Ash and Mia as not just an Evil Dead legend, but one of the great horror heroes.

Evil Dead Rise is in cinemas now. For more on the movie, check out the following features…

Evil Dead Rise review | Runtime explained | Is the movie based on a true story? | Ranking the Evil Dead movies | Bruce Campbell cameo | Is Evil Dead Rise streaming? | Ending explained | Post-credit details | Evil Dead sequel plans

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