Evil Dead Rise: an intensely gory instalment of the cult horror franchise

Director Lee Cronin dials down the comedy but turns up the bloodshed for an unnerving addition to the Evil Dead franchise that marks its territory.

Evil Dead Rise (2023)Courtesy of Studio Canal

From the initial twisting POV shot that races along a creek through woods to a lake, and across that lake’s surface up to a young woman on the pier, we are clearly in ‘Evil Dead’ land. This, after all, is the series’ signature style for evoking the presence of a demonic force zeroing in on its next human host – even if it ’s really a diegetic shot from a drone controlled by Caleb (Richard Crouchley), who is trying to spook the woman (Mirabai Pease).

Meanwhile Caleb’s girlfriend Jessica (Mia Challis) – who is already possessed, and will soon make bloody work of her companions – sleeps in accommodation nearby that is more modern A-frame house than the familiar cabin in the woods. Advertising difference from as well as similarity to its franchise stablemates, this prologue is marking its territory.

Cut to ‘one day earlier’, and Evil Dead Rise takes us to an apparently unrelated setting, where most of the film plays out – not the series’ usual haunted woods or medieval castles, but a dilapidated apartment building in Los Angeles. Horrified to learn that she is pregnant, Beth (Lily Sullivan) arrives seeking comfort from her older, recently dumped sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), Ellie’s teen children Danny (Morgan Davies) and Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), and the much younger Kassie (Nell Fisher).

When an earthquake exposes a Book of the Dead and recorded incantations in the basement, Danny unwittingly summons an evil to the building, setting this normally close-knit family against one another in a nightmare of psychological and physical trauma.

Writer/director Lee Cronin uses genre material, as in his The Hole in the Ground (2019), to give monstrous expression to the maternal anxieties and bad blood of his well-sketched characters, as he fills the cracks in their family relations with id-like embodiments of repressed rage and resentment. For these demons deconstruct and reconstruct their victims much as Kassie does her dolls, or Cronin the franchise’s formulae.

Drawing equally on the high-rise hell of Lamberto Bava’s Demons 2 (1986) and Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [Rec] (2007), and appropriating the flooded elevator of Stanley Kubrick ’s The Shining (1980), Evil Dead Rise brings all-new locations and dramatis personae, ditches altogether Bruce Campbell’s popular hero Ash (who even in Fede Alvarez’s 2013 sequel/reboot had a brief cameo), and dials down the comedy. Hitting the ground running, with intense gore and unnerving sound design, it ultimately forges a macabre Möbius loop back to the woods where it all started – at least in this film, if not quite in Sam Raimi’s 1981 original.

► Evil Dead Rise is in UK cinemas from Friday 21 April.