Director: Lee Cronin Starring: Alyssa Sutherland, Lily Sullivan, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher Running Time: 97 minutes
Taking over a horror franchise is no tall order. The pressure, the expectations and the potential pitfalls could understandably make a young director nervous, stepping in to look after somebody else’s baby. Like Craven to Nightmare and Carpenter to Halloween, the Evil Dead series remains tied in the hearts and minds of fans to its proud founding father Sam Raimi. Any new entry has a hard task emulating Raimi’s unique Hieronymus Bosch meets Looney Tunes vision, but Ireland’s own Lee Cronin, who has worked under Raimi’s tutelage in the years since his first feature The Hole in the Ground, rises capably under the bloody tidings of his reboot, Evil Dead Rise.
Where The Hole in the Ground took a slow and steady approach to parental anxieties, Rise is as blunt as a rusty chainsaw, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Aussie actress Lilly Sullivan plays Beth, a guitar tech always on the go, who finds herself unexpectantly pregnant. She rushes to get advice from her big sister Ellie, an impossibly Cool Mom played by Alyssa Sutherland. Ellie rode out her own young motherhood and now works as a tattoo artist while raising three kids: aspiring DJ Danny (Morgan Davies), upcoming activist Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and adorable Kassie (Nell Fisher), the kind of kid who tears off baby doll heads to impale on top of a pointy stick. Their flat is full of noise, mess and love, Ellie a broad but badass archetype of “has no idea what she’s doing but making it work”. A good role model for potential parent Beth so, but there are some big snaffus on the rise: the kid’s dad is now out of the picture, Beth being too wrapped up elsewhere to take her big sister’s calls, and also, an earthquake has unearthed an ancient unstoppable evil Book of the Dead in the block’s hidden basement.
There is a lot of setup to get Rise started. Before even meeting Beth and Ellie, we’re introduced to the demonic entity first, on a classic rampage against teens that takes place a day after Rise’s events. Following that, there’s a lot of exposition heavy lines, character’s calling each other “sis” and such much more than they ever do in real life, and some extravagantly ill-advised horror character actions. Danny takes the Book of the Dead up to his room and starts spinning some dusty old records alongside it that play a recording, and before you know it, a demon is summoned, Ellie is possessed and uses her last independent breath to beg Beth to protect her kids.
It’s a potentially frustrating slow start, but Cronin throws the viewer enough bones to bring them along for the ride. For every clunky line there’s also the camera catching a sharp object that’s sure to come up later, and in general he gives us the geography of the flat and the building with an assured subtlety. His use of split diopter shots gives that space an even more confined feel and get us uncomfortably close to the characters, adding to the tension. The setup laying it on thick has a purpose too; spending time with this family and the building’s other residents naturally lets the viewer start building up their own horror hierarchy of who’s safe and how, before the story starts messing around with the natural horror expectations and instincts.
There’s a gleeful meanness to Rise that shows Cronin as a loyal student of Raimi. Scenes of Demon Mom trying to trick the kids, and even generally trying to move around in the increasingly deteriorating body its occupying, are suitably gnarly, and when the body count starts rising, the film shows its devotion to bloody carnage. Sutherland’s demonic version of Ellie drips with gleeful evil, spitting out cruel lines and gutteral cries. The set pieces are bloody, and viscerally violent, painful in ways you can actually anticipate rather than numb slasher scares. It never gets to the madcap messiness of Bruce Campbell and co, but it still delivers gore by a pretty literal bucketful. With Hole in the Ground being more cerebral and slow burning, you can tell how much fun Cronin is having going off the leash, from carefully constructed carnage viewed through a peephole to quick, nasty cuts of, well, cuts, there’s a variety of violence that should satisfy the craven craving of fans.
The Irish director continues his promising run of form in this diabolically delightful demonfest. Once it gets going, its hard not to share the film’s enthusiasm for diving right into the muck and mire – from creatively used cheese graters to the series beloved chainsaw, there’s an infectious excitement for the director to wield implements of destruction that passes like a Deadite from the actors and then the audience. Just maybe don’t see it after a big meal; it’s Cronin’s stock and not viewers’ stomachs should be the thing on the rise after this one.(3.5 / 5)
Evil Dead Rise opens in Irish cinemas from 21st April.