Evil Dead is a legacy.
There is no argument against this. Five films, a television series, a video game, and on and on. Evil Dead has infested every corner of our popular culture much like the deadites within the film. There is no escaping it.
With that in mind, how do you approach an attempt to not only add to this legacy, but to update and modify it?
Luckily for all of us, Lee Cronin, the writer and director of the latest Evil Dead entry, ‘Evil Dead Rise’ knows exactly how to do this.
Gone is the cabin in the woods.
Replaced by a decrepit, nearly condemned high rise apartment complex.
Gone are the friends getting away only to find a dark force rushing through the floors of the forest.
Replaced by a broken family reuniting to try to mend old wounds and heal new ones only to find a dark force rushing through the concrete floors of their building.
Gone is the Book of the Dead.
Just kidding, the Book of the Dead is front and center here.
With all of the changes though, it could be imagined that the soul of the Evil Dead(pun only kind of intended) would be lost in this newest entry. Leaving surface formula behind, how do you create that same sense of demonic dread? That sense of isolation when a monster that used to be your friend decided to devour you, all while there is no help for miles around.
Yes, this film takes place in the heart of the urban jungle. Yes, they are surrounded by people. But instead of losing that sense of harrowing aloneness, it creates its own modified and relatable sense of isolation. The isolation of being surrounded, but still being alone. The sense of living in a city.
Most importantly though, Cronin does what all great filmmakers do; he brings his heart to the film. The dynamic of motherhood, family, and human bonds that bend, but can never truly be broken, are front and center in this installment.
So, while using the established Evil Dead cocktail of isolation, blood, gore, humor, and fear, Cronin manages to add perhaps more heart than any other Evil Dead installment to date.
What’s so impressive about the film, however, is the balance of it all. One can feel the reverence to the franchise, the love and care of the universe. But one can also feel the difference, the layers of personal artistry writhing through the veins of the film.
The result is a film that takes the time in the first act to fully develop the characters and their relationships, only to shift into that well known, and loved, break-neck(again, pun only slightly intended) pacing of the film. Once the book arrives, once the incantation is spoken, this film rushes with ferocity to its climax. Cronin’s careful characterization in the first moments of the film adds a sense of sorrow and dread that very few horror films manage to elicit.
This sense of sorrow also lies heavily at the feet of the wonderful performers in this film. Every actor is perfectly cast, but the transformation of Ellie(Alyssa Sutherland) is especially well performed and notably heart wrenching.
In short, Evil Dead Rise, is almost a perfect horror film. It balances the humor, the fear, the tension, the humanity in such a masterful way that it would be hard to imagine this film will not only be revered as a worth entry into the Evil Dead franchise, but as an important entry into the horror genre in general.