Somebody needs to protect budding directors from being swallowed by the great whale that is IP (intellectual property). Indeed, take a look around the desiccated movie landscape, and you can’t avoid the grim conclusion that few large-scale productions exist that aren’t driven by some proven IP, whether it’s Marvel, or some product’s origin story – Tetris, Air Jordans etc. Even celebrated talents like Greta Gerwig aren’t immune, with Barbie being one of 2023’s most anticipated movies.
Then, of course, there’s the endless franchise iterations. Take promising, Irish director, Lee Cronin. He impressed with his horror debut, The Hole In The Ground, and now he’s at the helm of this reboot.
From the off, it’s clear you’re not in the presence of subtle writing. Characters address each other as “cous” or “sis”; in the oddly tacked-on cold opening, another bemoans her cousin’s “latest boyfriend”, the dialogue serving as expositional shorthand. However, The Evil Dead series was tongue-in-cheek, so some hokeyness is allowable.
This time, instead of friends in a cabin, we follow a family living in a dilapidated apartment building in downtown Los Angeles. Guitar technician, Beth, is visiting her sister, Ellie, and Ellie’s three kids, Bridget, Danny and Kassie. An earthquake splits open the floor of the building’s parking garage, where Danny finds a safety deposit box containing old records featuring incantations that summon the possessing spirt that’ll turn his mother into a “deadite”.
But, before the gleeful bloodshed, we must suffer ham-fisted attempts at establishing character investment. Ellie’s just been dumped, so that’s hard, I suppose, and Beth’s just fallen unexpectedly pregnant – stressful, admittedly. Gee, I wonder will circumstances arise persuading Beth she has some aptitude for motherhood? If I sound facetious, it’s because the script is uninterested in its characters, setting them up as perfunctorily as someone assembling IKEA furniture.
But all hope is not lost. These trying scenes will soon mercifully yield to what we came here for: the berserk gore. Kudos to Sutherland, whose febrile performance as the possessed mother is both alarming and amusing. The kids are less convincing: as their mother descends further into murderous insanity, they look mildly upset, as if she might snap out of it after a spa visit. Still, once the film gets going, it becomes impressively nasty and unflinchingly disgusting. True to the original films’ spirit, its madcap violence is inventive.
But, alas, that insufferable character arc about Beth’s pregnancy resurfaces. Despite the carnival of dismemberment surrounding them, Kassie learns the news, and they see fit to calmly discuss it. This shift is so gallingly clunky that you’re aware that, for all its inventiveness, this is a product. These are ersatz characters. The film’s shoddily earnest character development dilutes the power of the anarchic mayhem. So, while this does go hard, there’s a hollow, made-by-committee sense that’s impossible to dispel. You can’t invest in such false characters, which, in turn, makes the film less scary. If we truly felt their loss, the frights would hit harder and the laughs would be more cathartically effective.
A homage to The Shining’s lift full of blood scene highlights, by comparison, how short on atmosphere this is. As Anthony Lane once wrote: “Blood is not frightening; what worries people is the uncertain certainty that it might yet be shed.” Here, blood bombards us, sometimes to sickeningly entertaining effect. Genre fans will enjoy how this film keeps upping the ante, but this won’t shake your soul. After all, it’s on the assembly line with Barbie, Ken and Hawkeye.
Words: Rory Kiberd
Evil Dead Rise
Director: Lee Cronin
Release Date: April 21