Low 'Rise': Fifth 'Evil Dead' film a disappointingly derivative drama-trauma

“Evil Dead Rise” - ★ ★

This review has not been written for hard-core horror fans who've been waiting with bated (and baited) breath for a modernized, gory-fied update of Sam Raimi's 1981 low-budget demonic possession classic “The Evil Dead.”

Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez already tried that in 2013 by plying plenty of gore and goop (plus an obsessive amount of Cronenbergesque mutilation) to a hard-R-rated remake unimaginatively titled “Evil Dead.” I awarded it one-and-a-half stars and conceded, “Fans of goop and gore will get their fill of satisfaction from this Grand Guignol production.”

The same can be said about “Evil Dead Rise,” a disappointingly derivative drama-trauma directed and written by Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin. If “Rise” doesn't set a new standard of acceptance for grossly explicit violence and opening the bloodgates in R-rated movies, it sure comes close, especially when it finds a new use for the common cheese grater.

But it doesn't even attempt to do what Raimi's visionary trilogy became famous for. Let's review.

That ultra-cheapie horror tale “The Evil Dead” (it cost about $383,000 to make) earned an MPAA X-rating for its visceral violence, but went to market unrated to avoid the pornography stigma. The film made a cult star out of chisel-chinned actor Bruce Campbell and earned high praise from novelist Stephen King, who called it, “The most ferociously original horror film I've ever seen!” The key word being original.

Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) succumbs to the demonic Book of the Dead in Lee Cronin's "Evil Dead Rise," the fifth in the horror film series. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

As impressively scary and inventive as “The Evil Dead” might be, Raimi topped it with his fun and frightening, creatively creepy 1987 sequel, a twisted masterpiece subtitled “Dead By Dawn.” Outrageous. Unpredictable. Cinematically brilliant. I witnessed hilariously shocking visuals and heard soul-searing sounds I had never experienced at the movies until then. A second sequel, Universal Pictures' “Army of Darkness,” restrained the violence to win a more marketable, studio-mandated R rating.

Is “Rise” really scary? Yes, if you mean cheap jump-scares, geysers of blood, evil contact lenses, twisted body parts, possessed persons crawling on the walls and ceiling, ghoulish grins, bad teeth, cringe-inducing mutilations and fetid, projectile vomiting (in short, stuff we have all seen before).

But if you mean scary as in pure suspense, nerve-wracking tension, genuine fright and disbelief at what you just saw ... no way.

“Rise” begins with a promising visual joke. A low camera lens skirts through the woods and over a lake, replicating Raimi's famed “shaky cam,” created by dangling a camera from a two-by-four with men holding each end while they race along.

After this otherwise unremarkable start - involving a scalping and a bloody drowning - the movie drops into a sloggy domestic flashback taking place one day earlier at the cramped and crumbling L.A. high-rise apartment of tattoo artist and mother-of-three Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland). Her sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) comes for a visit, unaware that Ellie's hubby has deserted her and their offspring, cute little Kassie (Nell Fisher), her older brother Danny (Morgan Davies) and sister Bridget (Gabrielle Echols).

Beth doesn't tell Ellie she's pregnant. Her impending motherhood promises to be a new common connection between siblings, but it quickly devolves into an easy, queasy way for Beth to be threatened with a violent abortion by her possessed sister.

There's something not quite right with Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) as her sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) and her kids, Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), little Kassie (Nell Fisher) and Danny (Morgan Davies), discover in "Evil Dead Rise." Courtesy of Warner Bros.

A convenient earthquake sets in motion the horror elements. It collapses stairwells and renders the elevator useless. At the same time, it opens a hole in a secret underground bank vault where a curious Danny finds the infamous Book of the Dead, along with old 78 RPM recordings of demonology researchers reading from the book, which he conveniently plays on his old-school turntable. Oh, oh!

At least “Rise” rises above Alvarez's reboot. Sutherland and Sullivan provide committed performances far better than needed here. Cronin, who directed 2019's horror Sundance favorite “The Hole in the Ground,” has great fun orchestrating set pieces - one involving a wide-angle view of carnage through a door peephole, plus a “The Shining” homage with tidal waves of blood and an elevator.

But to qualify as a true “Evil Dead” movie, Cronin's knock-off needs to show us daring, magical horrors we've never seen before, as Raimi's trilogy did.

Sadly, all we get are recycled bits from “The Shining,” “Smile,” “The Conjuring,” Peter Jackson's “Dead Alive,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” the woodchipper scene in “Fargo,” and any number of uninspired horror tales.

Sometimes, a scary movie needs something greater than a grater.

Starring: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher

Directed by: Lee Cronin

Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated R for language, gory violence. 97 minutes

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.