Lee Cronin’s “Evil Dead Rise” begins seemingly a few miles down the road from that infamous cabin in the woods, where the original onslaught of explosive gore, decapitations, oozing fluids and monster mashing took place.
Following the amusing opener, which utilizes the franchise signature of an angry whirl of a POV shot and offers an arresting visual marking a great title design, the real movie begins.
We meet Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a single mother raising two children in a badly run-down apartment complex. Ellie’s sister (Lily Sullivan) shows up just in time to help out, particularly after an earthquake unearths the Book of the Dead.
As a horror film set in a high-rise building, this barely capitalizes on the location. Longtime fans of the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy, “The Evil Dead” (1981), “Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn” (1987) and “Army of Darkness” (1993) will not only miss the series’ protagonist, Ash (played by the indispensable Bruce Campbell) but a detectable sense of humor.
I guess we’re supposed to laugh at how disgusting it is when a small child has shards of glass protruding from her throat…actually, no, that’s revolting. Same for most of these gag-inducing “gags.”
Fede Alvarez’s terrific “Evil Dead,” was a 2013 remake/franchise extension that reinvented the central concept and added a great deal of dramatic weight. By making the cabin in the woods the setting of an intervention, the main character was changed from Ash into Mia, a drug addict (played by the sensational Jane Levy) whose early convulsions suggest withdrawals as much as demonic possession.
Alvarez’s film is deadly serious, dark and extremely gory, but also emotionally rich and thrilling, if numbing in its excess. “Evil Dead Rise” is none of the former and all of the latter.
It’s not a problem that “Evil Dead Rise” stretches the R-rating to the absolute breaking point and is mean spirited and quite gross for most of the running time. Most horror films would wear that as a badge of honor and this one earned my admiration for being so strong in extreme content.
Whereas most mainstream, studio-made horror films don’t go that far in eliciting an audience reaction (aside from jump scares), this one will rattle a packed house.
The movie is as outrageous as it needs to be, but it never garnered an emotional reaction, let alone a connection, to anyone on the screen. Unlike Campbell’s Ash and Levy’s Mia, the characters are hard to like and the performances aren’t outstanding.
Sutherland gives a scary turn, but I was less worried about the family than I was the actors, who appear to truly be suffering for their art. Neither the supporting characters nor the actors playing them stand out.
The only group who suffers more than the onscreen characters is the audience, who must witness a real chamber of horrors: a lack of originality. Whereas the 2013 film offered new angles on the expected set up (even the reason the characters remain at the cabin is well considered), this just unpacks the easter eggs and visual shout outs to other horror films.
The ending alone rounds up familiar moments from “The Shining,” “Aliens,” “The Thing,” “High Tension,” “Resident Evil” and especially “Evil Dead 2.” This franchise doesn’t need humor to work, nor to balance out the extreme material, though anyone who is a longtime fan of either “Army of Darkness” (1993) or “Ash Vs. The Evil Dead” (2015-2018) will be disappointed by how unpleasant and relentlessly sadistic this is.
Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” spoke of how addiction creates monsters within and alienates us from ourselves and those around us. Here, the idea is to use extreme horror to present the subtext of the hardships of motherhood.
It doesn’t entirely gel, and the topic was better explored in “Hereditary,” “The Babadook” and Mike Flanagan’s surprisingly superb “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (2016), which had a stronger focus on how a single mother’s unwanted acceptance of the supernatural tears her family apart. Flanagan’s film, a true sleeper if there ever was one (its unrelated to the mostly awful 2014 “Ouija”), is emotionally rich and seriously scary.
“Evil Dead Rise” will elicit audible groans from an audience but doesn’t make you care enough about anyone on screen. It’s just a relay race to the next gross-out set piece. This is the first “Evil Dead” movie I don’t plan on ever seeing again.