‘Evil Dead Rise’ Is About as Much Fun as Eating a Wine Glass
The sequel to the original trilogy is heavy on gore and innuendo about the decay of the family unit.EntertainmentMovies
The villains of the Evil Dead franchise have a real zest to them, a joie de undead if you will. Unlike so many other properties’ zombies, they stick around after they’ve expired and spend time with the people that knew them in their living forms. While doing so, they laugh a lot—the particular timbre tends to be a kind of curdled cackle that at once suggests sonic sadism and the notion that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. These are not the braindead zombs that George Romero dreamed up, but crafty menaces, possessed by demons. They get under the skin (sometimes quite literally) of their friends and loved ones, taunting them and torturing them psychologically before they rip the lives out of them. Much of what they do is still tethered to their lived experience. In Evil Dead Rise (in theaters now), roadie Beth (Lily Sullivan) goes from being referred to as a groupie by her more responsible sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) to being called a “groupie slut” after Ellie has turned. It’s a minor distinction but an important one.
Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise breaks out of the rural cabin of Sam Raimi’s 1981 original Evil Dead (and many of its follow-ups) and into something about as claustrophobic: a Los Angeles apartment. As the focus here is mostly on a single family—Ellie, her three kids, as well as Beth—the film thrusts domesticity to the forefront, though this is largely cosmetic. I don’t know that Evil Dead Rise has much to say about the desiccation of a family via its depiction of corporeal rot and vivisection beyond: “Look, a visual metaphor!” Nonetheless, we’re treated to some amusing battles with kitchen utensils like a spatula and a cheese grater, and the suggestion that Ellie was already living in some version of hell by having to keep her household in order. Ellie becomes possessed by the franchise’s howling wind-like entity when in the basement of her building to do laundry, so that’s something. Once undead, she expresses relief from the burdens of motherhood: “I’m free now. Free from all you titty-sucking parasites,” a newly zombified Ellie tells her family.
At times Cronin does venture out to put a twist on familiar tropes—the hovering tracking shot through the woods that opens the movie fools us into thinking that we’re watching the arrival of evil as it was portrayed by Raimi. Turns out it’s a drone (I love a drone punchline!), and that, in fact, evil is already there. The stylish intro finds us momentarily back to the woods, in an alpine house, where a young woman reads Wuthering Heights as her friend who’s across the room with her back turned starts reciting along with her friend’s silent reading (it’s naturally the “Let me in!” part). Before you can say, “Kate Bush,” the reading girl is scalped via her ponytail, and the demon rushes out to a dock, where she catches the drone and rams it into her face, creating battle scars. Her now former boyfriend looks on in horror as she plunges into the water and then rises out of it, along with the film’s title from behind the surrounding trees and hills. We then flash back to a day earlier to watch how the urban family unleashed the evil that followed these unlucky people into the country.
It’s a slick intro that, at least visually, the rest of the film lives up to. Evil Dead Rise is an impressive production that is nonetheless not quite enjoyable. So much of what’s fun about Raimi’s original Evil Dead movies is their sheer ingenuity in terms of the visual elements and story, and so much of Evil Dead Rise is taken up by rehashes. Though Raimi’s original trilogy was extended via a TV series, which ran from 2015 to 2018, Evil Dead Rise marks a true trope-ification of the universe. It offers clever and not-so-clever ways back in. The Book of the Dead that unleashes the evil spirits in this world is discovered in a hidden bank vault that becomes unsealed after an earthquake. Ellie’s kid Danny (Morgan Davies) rifles through the abandoned building, and finds the book and accompanying records featuring recitations to wake the dead (a novice DJ, he naturally swipes the odd-looking vinyl and plays it, as a crate-digger’s job is never done). And then evil tears through the family, whose members have a tendency for unwitting prescience. “Weird shit like this gets locked away for a reason,” says Danny’s sister Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) regarding that book he swiped. After Ellie has died (but before she reanimates), her sister tells what she thinks is a lifeless corpse: “I can’t believe I’m never gonna speak to you again.” She has no idea.
In keeping with the mirthful spirit of Raimi’s work, Evil Dead Rise is slapstick at times, though overall, it reminded me of Hereditary in its sheer, screaming bleakness (someone even gets set on fire). This is not the kind of movie in which you should get attached to any one character, lest you be sorely disappointed. Luckily for us, the characters aren’t that likable to begin with, and Bridget is actually way more interesting as a demon, spewing piles of bugs and then chewing on a wine glass because, “I gotta kill the creepy crawlies inside my tummy.” You can’t really fault her logic.
Though a bit rote, there’s something refreshingly unpretentious about Evil Dead Rise’s interest in suggesting family themes/the importance of matriarchy without blasting us with an all-important message. (Beth, by the way, is pregnant and part of her will to survive comes from bringing that fetus to life.) This movie doesn’t really have much interest in being anything other than what it is. It’s really all just a dressing for the bloodbath, and in that way, feels like home.