Evil Dead Rise Review: Reboot Carves Out a Promising New Future for the Franchise

Evil Dead Rise has a title that also explicitly states its entire purpose for being: Warner Bros.'s attempt to raise up an entire new Evil Dead franchise. Filmmaker Lee Cronin starts with a simple enough concept, which is also a major novelty for the series: Deadites unleashed in the urban setting of a Los Angeles apartment building. This time, things are also more personal, as the group of unlucky potential victims is a family, including several young kids. Cronin manages to thread the needle of keeping the signatures of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead intact, while still using this small-scale pad to launch a much bigger Evil Dead concept.

The story centers on two (somewhat estranged) sisters, Ellie (Vikings' Alyssa Sutherland), a single mom living in a dilapidated L.A. apartment, and Beth (Lily Sullivan), a sound tech for bands on tour, whose life takes a sudden unexpected turn. Beth seeks out Ellie for much-needed reconnection, only to arrive on the worst night possible: an earthquake reveals that the building (formerly a bank) is hiding an occult vault in the basement – including a certain Book of the Dead. It doesn't take long for the curse to get out, and the Deadites to start taking over, and taking down victims – starting with Ellie. 

(Photo: New Line Cinema)

The premise and setting for Evil Dead Rise might be different than the "cabin in the woods" setup of Raimi's first two films (and Fede Álvarez's 2013 remake), but the overall effect is pretty much the same. Beth's apartment (and the isolated top floor of her building outside) provide a limited space in which the Deadites can stalk, seduce, and/or kill the living victims trapped in close proximity to them. 

Cronin makes good use of the space, arguably working it better than Raimi or Alvarez did, as characters are cleverly separated, isolated, and attacked within close quarters that might feel safe in another horror film. The "logic" of the horror within this setting holds up most of the time, and Cronin pulls off some clever (and cost-effective) sequences of terror (or implied horror) using devices like the apartment's front door peephole, or an old vinyl record player and stereo system (with noise-canceling headphones) used by Ellie's son/aspiring DJ Danny (Morgan Davies).  Not only is the horror smartly designed and staged, but the gore factor is also kept well up to Evil Dead standards and the sound design is top-notch, often inspiring the most intense horror moments through audible means, rather than visual.

(Photo: New Line Cinema)

The main cast does well creating compelling drama and at least a couple of characters the audience will care about enough to worry for. Due to the film's relentless pace (a lean 97 minutes) there are some characters that get too thinly drawn to really know or attach to – but in most cases, those same actors are the ones who get to cut loose and have the most fun as Deadites. Overall, there's something novel and fun about Evil Dead adding a level of family/domestic drama to its formula to counterbalance the shocking gore that was firmly cemented in place by the 2013 remake. 

That all said, those hoping for some form of Raimi's (and to a lesser extent Alvarez's) offbeat weirdness and humor in this Evil Dead reboot should temper expectations. This is definitely a more by-the-numbers studio-approved horror film product, which has its fair share of jokes and humor, but not really the goofy indie film camp flavor Raimi added to the genre. 

The ending of Evil Dead Rise tries (somewhat clunkily) to wrap back around to a somewhat disjointed start, which fails to be as clever as it seems to think it is. Regardless, the main goal is achieved in that the film sets up a much wider application of the Evil Dead curse, which could make for some fun sequels to come. This may not be the Evil Dead reboot or Army of the Darkness sequel hardcore fans were hoping for, but as far as fresh starts go, Evil Dead Rise is pretty good. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Evil Dead Rise will release in theaters on April 21st.