It’s been a big year for horror already, with first-rate shockers Scream VI, Pearl and M3GAN setting the bar scarily high in 2023. Looking to join the party is Evil Dead Rise, Irish writer-director Lee Cronin’s terrifying new entry in a much-loved franchise.
After a brilliant cabin-in-the-woods pre-credits sequence that nods to the setting of the first two Evil Dead films from the ‘80s, we’re introduced to Beth (Lily Sullivan). She’s in Los Angeles to reunite with her estranged sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland from Vikings). Single mum Ellie is busy bringing up her three children, Danny (Morgan Davies), Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Kassie (Nell Fisher), which makes dealing with Beth’s arrival tricky. Then an earthquake hits and makes it even trickier, dislodging something wicked underneath their apartment block. Soon, Danny’s bedroom DJ curiosity sees him spin a piece of vinyl that sounds like a spooky old Latin recital but is essentially the aural accompaniment to the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, an ancient book from the newly revealed basement that summons demonic spirits.
What follows is a fast-paced and funny rollercoaster ride filled with likeable characters. While most horror films are populated by people you’d probably want to see mutilated in awful fashion, Evil Dead Rise isn’t. The family of five at its centre are all affable enough that you might want to hang out with them in real life. This may not be the reason anyone goes to see a scary movie but it’s an unexpected bonus.
What probably will be expected, certainly by anyone who’s heard the film’s glowing word-of-mouth reviews, is how savagely bloody things get in poor old Ellie’s apartment and the rest of her building (which look suitably hellish thanks to the sterling work of production designer Nick Bassett and cinematographer Dave Garbett). It may be slightly cartoonish but the abundant gore and blood is impressive, while the death scenes feel inventive and the action furious. Rise pays homage to previous Evil Dead films too, as well as genre classics The Shining and Brian Yuzna’s cult 1989 flick Society. It still manages to stand on its own though – and refreshingly doesn’t require a knowledge of the rest of the series.
Cronin cut his teeth with quiet-but-spooky debut The Hole in the Ground in 2019, but here he’s gone ballistic. It can’t quite match Brandon Cronenberg’s debauched riot Infinity Pool for ferocity, though in its own way it goes just as hard. Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi, one of the film’s executive producers, must be glad he chose Cronin for the job. You’ll find demons and the undead, chainsaws, the trailer-promised cheese-grater, impalings, decapitations and much more that needs to be seen to be believed in this 96-minute thriller. You won’t catch a more satisfying horror film this year. Seek it out.
- Director: Lee Cronin
- Starring: Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols
- Release date: April 21 (in cinemas)