Panic Fest 2023: Evil Dead Rise is a bloody roller coaster ride
This story is part of our coverage of Panic Fest 2023. Read more from our film team here.
I wasn’t a fan of the 2013 remake of Evil Dead. But while Fede Alvarez’s hard-edged “re-imagining” of the franchise didn’t work for me as well as it did for others, I still recognized and respected that it was at least trying something different with the material, rather than merely cashing a paycheck while cynically preying on the goodwill of the fans, as numerous other late-era sequels, remakes, and spin-offs of other series have done.
Fortunately, Evil Dead Rise approaches the storied series with that same sense of respect, and the results here work much better. While writer and director Lee Cronin’s Rise retains the extreme gore and mean-spirited violence of Alvarez’s take, it also embraces the absurdity and camp of the original trilogy in a way the straight-faced nature of the 2013 version rendered impossible.
The result may not entirely be the best of both worlds, but it’s a happy medium that manages to carve out a niche for itself that feels unique while still offering the obvious (a tree service truck in the parking garage, so there’s an excuse to have a chainsaw in an apartment building) and not-so-obvious Henrietta’s Pizzeria fanservice that viewers have come to expect.
After a suitably vicious cold open in the expected cabin in the woods, Evil Dead Rise jumps back to the city (and back in time a couple of days) to tell the story of single mom Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), her three kids (Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, and Nell Fisher), and her semi-estranged younger sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) as they stumble upon a copy of a familiar-yet-different evil book in the old bank vault below their aging apartment building. This is an Evil Dead movie, of course, so before long, a recorded translation of the book is played aloud, and the evil spirits are loose and possessing people to suitably bloody results.
Rather than a direct sequel to either the Raimi originals or the Alvarez remake, Cronin wisely opts to tell an unrelated and self-contained story using—albeit loosely—the same mythology and flavor of those pictures. Like the 2013 version, it also has the good sense to tackle its narrative through the lens of distinct themes; in this case, the appeals and pitfalls of modern-day parenthood, a subject also broached by some of the other films playing at the fest this year, notably Laura Moss’s Birth/Rebirth.
While Rise is every bit as bloody as any of its predecessors, the parenthood angle gives the film its edge. Killing off children in a horror picture may not be the taboo it was 20 years ago, but inflicting this level of cruelty on the young is still relatively rare, especially when it’s usually their own mother doing it. However, no matter how vicious the film gets before the end, it always feels more like a crowd-pleasing kind of violence—at least, it did at a preview screening in a packed house full of people who were chanting “Evil Dead” before the film began and laughing along through much of its running time.
When it comes to these sorts of remakes and late-era sequels, the question often asked is: “Did we really need this movie?” By positioning itself outside both the constraints and the continuity of the other films in the franchise, Evil Dead Rise makes a place for itself where this question is moot. Those here for another bloody roller coaster set in this universe can enjoy its lifts and dips. Those who aren’t can conveniently ignore that it even exists.