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‘Evil Dead Rise’ review: Disgustingly good

Ryan Oquiza

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‘Evil Dead Rise’ review: Disgustingly good
‘Evil Dead Rise’ retains just enough of the core elements from the original, a touch of the extravagant excess from the previous one, and an over-the-top, devil-may-care attitude that would make PG-13 horror films look like kids' movies

You should probably enter Evil Dead Rise knowing what to expect. Because for the uninitiated, this latest reboot might seem like the most repulsive, vile, and wretched thing ever committed to screen, but for the Evil Dead franchise, this is just a lunch break — a delicious one at that. 

The original Sam Raimi film, perhaps infamous for using practical kitchen ingredients like karo syrup, creamed corn, and red food coloring to convincingly produce viscous and yucky body horror gore despite its low-budget, is spiritually present throughout this fifth installment. The Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead) is here, unsuspecting flesh are, once again, possessed by deadites and turned into foul, mischievous murderers, and a chainsaw is just hanging around in the corner. 

This makes Lee Cronin’s new Evil Dead film far more like a legacy sequel, right up the alley of the Halloween reboot trilogy and the recent crop of Scream films. These films are bound to be crowd-pleasing ones when done with just the right amount of pandering and familiarity, but in most cases, they end up turning into middling and empty entries that fail to recapture anything remotely close to the original.

However, what sets this one apart is, shockingly, its familiarity. It knows when to be different and when to be similar. Evil Dead Rise retains just enough of the core elements from the original, a touch of the extravagant excess from the previous one, and an over-the-top, devil-may-care attitude that would make PG-13 horror films look like kids’ movies.

But even then, the film discovers new things with its gothic Los Angeles apartment setting and its cast of fresh faces. One of the smartest decisions the film makes at the start is to change its location from the admittedly run-down and tired trope of a secluded cabin in the woods and instead traps its main characters on the top floor of a small and claustrophobic apartment. 

Walls suddenly feel like paper-thin structures, ready to burst at any moment with the undead. Household items, or anything remotely sharp, are at risk of becoming weaponized at any moment (watch out for a cheese grater and a wine glass). The elevator quite literally becomes a force of evil, using its wires and ropes to ensnare its victim like the forest vines in the original. Don’t be fooled by the city landscape; this film is unexpectedly self-contained.

At its emotional core is the family of Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a single mother who takes care of her small child and two teenagers. One of them includes Danny (Morgan Davies), a trans person obsessed with becoming a DJ (which, in this world, means you’re a lot more likely to accidentally play demonic recordings), and after an unfortunate pile of events happen one after another, the demons come out to play. This spurs Ellie’s sister, Beth (Lily Sullivan), to become the main protagonist and surrogate protector of the kids.

From the get-go, Evil Dead Rise feeds into the primal fear of a mother having to protect her children against the deformed and abusive face of family. It’s worth noting that the film deliberately lacks representation of a father figure, which serves as a driving force for much of the pain, conflict, and suppressed emotional baggage concealed beneath the facades of the characters. The only thing lacking in this aspect is the fact that all of this stuff is relegated to its opening setup, espousing character arcs like they’re the first pawn moves in a chessboard, with these pawns quickly sacrificed in favor of moving the queen and all the other more interesting pieces as far as they can to the enemy base.

The film often forgets that those pawns, the driving force and motivation behind each character’s fight-or-flight actions, are crucial to serving a checkmate, which, while the film does inch close to several times, never fully gets there. Beth gets the most out of anyone in this regard, which makes it incredibly easy to root for her as someone who embraces the idea of protecting someone other than herself. Her scenes with Ellie’s youngest, Kassi (Nell Fisher) stand out among all the other relationships in the film. But it’s not like the film was lacking in any potential, like, say, the relationship (or simmering resentment) between Danny and their sister Bridge (Gabrielle Echols). We also rarely got a glimpse of the sibling dynamics with their mother, which perhaps could’ve made Ellie’s deadite insults become far more gut-wrenching (see Ash’s attempt to kill Linda in Evil Dead II).

Instead, the quiet moments are just used as setup for the upcoming scare. And they’re good setups – don’t get me wrong – it’s just that there were many other ways the film could’ve developed and explored its characters for the sake of emotional engagement and making the scares more impactful. Having said that, the scares are so downright disgusting and nauseating on a visceral level that who the heck cares about emotion. 

Eyeballs get popped, blood and guts are laid out, and even skull caps aren’t safe! There’s an unbearable close-up on a body part that is utterly spine-chilling that you just have to applaud that they actually put in the time to come up with that (shout out to Crimes of the Future last year for seemingly starting this trend). The gore in the film is so stomach-turning that seeing it feels like a car being jumpstarted repeatedly, except instead of the battery being shocked, it’s the audience’s already waning chest that is jolted (a good time to also say that the film is not for the faint of heart).

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‘Evil Dead Rise,’ a horror sequel about motherly love gone awry

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As a genre film, it succeeds at being icky, unsettling, and spine-chillingly scary. It mixes a winning combination of The Shining, Aliens, and Hereditary, while also leaving enough room to explore an entirely different breed of horror in future sequels. Because lest we forget, Evil Dead Rise is billed as a new franchise starter even though it may not seem like it. We get the same cool lines, the same monsters, and the same amount of brutality and carnage these films are known for — for better and worse.

But a peculiar thing happened, and it happened right as the opening title card started crawling out of a forest while its blood-stained text reflected on the water. Looking back, I realized that the film had a distinct reverence not just for the Evil Dead franchise, but for the idea of making a rich, pure, and unadulterated visual spectacle by way of crafting the most excruciatingly crazy set pieces that your nightmares will undoubtedly feast on. And so, in that regard, Evil Dead Rise is oh so groovy–

‘Evil Dead Rise’ will be showing at Ayala Malls Cinemas nationwide starting on May 10, as well as during sneak preview screenings at select Ayala Malls locations on May 1-2.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is the chief film critic of and one of the hosts of the film podcast Sine Simplified. He has written for both PhilSTAR Life and CNN Philippines Life. He is an alumnus of the Ricky Lee Screenwriting Workshop. He is currently studying at the University of the Philippines Diliman.