‘Evil Dead Rise’ SXSW review – Crowd-pleasing, violent and fun

The Evil Dead franchise has left the woods for the concrete jungle. Lee Cronin‘s Evil Dead Rises technically isn’t the first time a property in this popular horror series was set primarily in the city; the TV spin-off Ash vs. Evil Dead beat it to the punch by a good few years. However, this is the first film entry to show the Book of the Dead hidden away inside an apartment building. The change in scenery may seem like the series is moving away from its roots, but this new film is a splendid celebration of everything that came before it.

While Evil Dead Rises mainly takes place in a city apartment, the opening does show three other characters at a lakeside cabin. From there the story quickly moves on to the actual protagonist, Beth (Lily Sullivan), as she visits her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her three children: Danny, Bridget and Kassie (Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher). It’s not the warmest of welcomes considering Beth was MIA when Ellie’s husband recently left her, but the two sisters don’t even have time to patch things up before an earthquake reveals the Book of the Dead down in the parking garage.

Cronin’s venue choice works wonders for the film and its atmosphere. This decrepit apartment complex gives the story a claustrophobic and trapped quality, and the earthquake damage ensures escape is next to impossible as well. The characters don’t venture too far from home or have that much space to move around in, yet the director’s keen shooting style makes this building seem even larger and imposing than it truly is.

Beth’s dysfunctional family and a few other unlucky tenants are left to fend for themselves once Ellie is transformed into one of the most daunting and destructive Deadites in Evil Dead history. Sutherland comfortably steals the whole show with her full-bodied and cracked performance as a demonic mother and sister. Sutherland throws her whole self into that role, and the end results will surely be talked about for years to come. Meanwhile, Sullivan’s part is more reactionary, yet she too delivers an intense physicality.

Any concerns about Warner Bros. dialing back the goriness of Fede Álvarez’s remake should feel comfort knowing that Evil Dead Rise is a bloody good time. Cronin is given ample room to play when it comes to the sheer level of violence. Severings, blown off limbs, and an unconventional use of a cheese grater are just a few of the gruesome visual appetizers before witnessing the pièce de résistance of the film. The studio easily could have churned out something safer, yet for fans’ sake, the film is graphic. Cronin expertly channels Raimi’s style while also adding his own personal touch, thus ensuring Evil Dead Rise is a thorough crowd-pleaser. Well, so long as that crowd craves blood, mayhem and viscera.

It takes a lot of convenient storytelling to get everything going, but Cronin also wastes little time before this one run-down building is crawling with Deadites. By now fans know how things usually begin in these films, so it’s not always necessary to come up with a newfangled way for someone to read from the infamous tome. Just go with the flow and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most sanguinary and gory films in the whole franchise.

Evil Dead Rise premiered at South by Southwest 2023, and it will open nationwide on April 21st.

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