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Evil Dead Rise

Director – Lee Cronin – 2022 – New Zealand, Ireland – Cert. 18 – 97m


When the Necoromicon is opened in a tower block, demons bloodily attack and possess members of an all-female nuclear family who try to fight them off – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 21st

One of two films about living in a high rise released this week.

The first bookend: the sound of a fly buzzing around the auditorium, is if to state that this is a film about technique. Almost immediately, a POV shot travelling rapidly along a river then a lake recalls The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1979). If you know the original, you’ll feel like you’re in good hands. The camera homes in on the characters as they interact with one another (a girl trying to relax on the pier, a boy goofing around nearby) and you get a strong idea of who they are. The acting is surprisingly good. Which means that, when people start being possessed by demons (which they do pretty quickly), you have a sense of what’s been lost, what’s been taken away. Pretty swiftly, you have to emotionally let the possessed go and get on the side of those still alive trying to survive the possessed demons. So you’re in much the same position as the main characters, and your empathy for them runs deep.

Something’s wrong with a third party member, the boy’s girlfriend who, as he describes it, is sleeping it off in the cabin. The first girl goes to check on her. The girlfriend is there, her back to us. She’s lying down, not very awake. Later, she’s sitting up, her back still to us. Then she topples inexplicably off the bed onto the floor. Cue the narrative’s return to the lake for some further mayhem and (in possibly the only CG effects in the film) the red words Evil Dead Rise ascend apocalyptically out of the water against the clear blue sky.

Welcome to the Evil Dead franchise. The new film’s producers are series alumni Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert. If you’ve seen previous instalments, you’ll know what to expect; if you haven’t, like the boyfriend at the lake, you can jump right in. This is not one of those films where you need to have seen the previous ones to make any sense of it (though if you have, you’ll make connections – a cabin in the woods, the opening of the flesh covered Necronomicon or Book of the Dead, characters defending themselves from or (if they fail) being possessed by hideous demons, oodles of gore and violence).

The second bookend: 24 hours previously. Again, the characters are clearly delineated. On tour, in a sleazy music venue lavatory, guitar technician Beth (Lily Sullivan) tests and discovers herself pregnant. She returns home, carrying her bags through incessant rain to the tower block where her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) lives with her family to find that Ellie has been abandoned by her partner and left to cope with her three girls: the DJ turntable-obsessed Danny (Morgan Davis), independently-minded middle sister Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and creative youngest sister Kassie (Nell Fisher) who constructs a doll consisting of a head and a pointed stick for self-defence because the tower block is built on the site of a former bank and said to be haunted by the ghost of a malevolent, crooked and greedy bank employee.

(Morgan Davies is a transgender actor transitioning from female to male, and a number of reviewers, perhaps knowing this beforehand, have described this character as male. With no prior knowledge of the actor and judging by what’s on the screen, I took the character to be a tomboyish female. The gender of the character is clearly open to interpretation, and the gender non-specific name Danny doesn’t settle the matter either way. But it makes sense to me that there are two sisters, one of whom has three daughters: an all-female, family dynamic).

As if all that weren’t bad enough, the family have been served an eviction notice as the building is scheduled for demolition in a month’s time.

An earthquake leads to the discovery by one of the girls of the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead bound in human flesh, and three dubplates. She takes the book to the family flat and starts looking at the pages, and listening to the dubplate recordings on her record player hears the testimony of the enquiring priest who, in 1923, set about translating the book into English and, in the process, unwittingly unleashed the unstoppable demons therein… One by one, starting with Ellie, evil demons attempt to possess each of the females, succeeding in some cases until, towards the end, only two family members are still human.

Reading Danny / Morgan Davies as female, there’s something refreshing about seeing a family unit consisting entirely of women and girls (as opposed to either a mixture of genders or an all male group) trying to survive a demonic onslaught. The possessed women are just as nasty as any male equivalents, while the survivors are as resourceful here as any characters you can think of in horror cinema. Towards the end, the demons reconfigure as an amalgam of possessed people, multiple heads, arms and legs, a little like a mobile version of the infamous group sexual ‘shunt’ at the end of Society (Brian Yuzna, 1989).

Images in passing borrow heavily from horror cinema. Gallons of blood come into play (much blood and other fluids are vomited by various possessed characters throughout, and at one point the tower block’s lift fills with blood (which cascaded from the lift in The Shining, Stanley Kubrick, 1980, while torrential rain filled the lift in Dark Water, Hideo Nakata, 2002, threatening to drown those inside) allowing for various women to become drenched in the stuff and look like they’ve wandered in from the finale of Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976). Some of the movements of the female demons owes much to the extreme, performance-based movements of Sadako, the otherworldly protagonist of Japan’s Ring franchise (Hideo Nakata et al, 1998 onwards).

Nevertheless, with its mobile camera racing first through the woods and then through the urban environment towards the tower block, its unstoppable, slavering demons and vaultloads of impressive sound effects work, this is very much an Evil Dead franchise entry. Gone is wisecracking protagonist Ash (Bruce Campbell, still present as a producer behind the scenes) with an extended, female nuclear family putting the accent firmly on the dramatic rather than the humourous horror movie.

As in previous Evil Dead entries, the scares are both effective and come thick and fast. Irish director Lee Cronin is clearly possessed (probably the wrong word) of considerable talent in marshalling all the elements at his disposal and knows how to tell a good, gripping yarn. If you like your horror movies full of bravura showmanship, over the top and scary as hell, then you’re in for a relentless, thrill-strewn ride.

The title, incidentally, could double as the name of the tower block. Welcome to Evil Dead Rise.

Evil Dead Rise is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, Friday, April 21st.


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