Evil Dead is a franchise that has multiple personalities. Sometimes skin-crawling horror. Sometimes hilarious camp carnival. I don’t begrudge the fans of Bruce Campbell’s campaign of goofy violence for not being fans of the 2013 reboot, but it’s undeniable that it drew a line in the sand and set a precedent of what the modern Evil Dead standards became. Evil Dead (2013) was an unflinching, disturbing gorefest that helped revitalize a dying horror scene. While not entirely devoid of the campiness of the original sequels, it loudly proclaimed that the original intensity of Evil Dead is back and is the standard going forward.
Ten long years we waited for the next installment. With bated breath we asked when and how the renewed vigor of the Evil Dead franchise would march on. Evil Dead Rise is uncharacteristically mute in its answer.
Let me get this out of the way. Evil Dead Rise is not a bad movie. In fact, in an age where “elevated”, psychological horror reigns supreme, the old-school Evil Dead formula shines brightly as a refreshing reminder that body horror remains a valuable part of the genre. Relative to its peers, it’s a reminder that horror is still the art of visceral fear. The film also benefits from a cast and crew who are firing on all cylinders. The cinematography is fun and engaging. The acting is excellent across the board. On a technical level, “Rise” meets the expectations of a modern mid-budget film.
On its face, Evil Dead Rise has all the hallmarks of its predecessor. There’s a lot of blood. There are demonic zombie infections. There are funny one-liners. It’s Evil Dead. What isn’t there is the relentless intensity. The nonstop menagerie of moments that give you incredibly uncomfortable violence. What “Rise” fails to deliver is the unbridled game of “scary chicken” that its predecessor provided. The moments of discomfort in Evil Dead (2013) that really made your skin crawl were moments that it leaned into. It made you watch without cutting away. When you watched someone licking a boxcutter, you were held in that moment until they decided to let you go. Hypodermic needles to the eye? Let’s give you that ten times in a row. Where Evil Dead Rise fails, is not in its premise, its characters, or even its gnarliest moments. Where it fails is its apparent lack of commitment to its full potential.
There is a nagging feeling of bashfulness throughout the movie. It’s as if it feels the need to pump the brakes every time the movie might truly push the audience into uncomfortable territory. There are passing moments where it displays some interesting and sick ideas. While these moments, as they are, can hold their own in the current state of the genre, it feels as though the potential to meet or exceed the precedent set by the last entry in the franchise is undercut at every turn. There were opportunities for “Rise” to carry the spirit of its predecessors – scenes that could have been iconic and lingering memories. Unfortunately, each of these opportunities are come and go in a blink. Nothing more than a series of shy winks.
Ultimately, Evil Dead Rise is a passable, but safe attempt to capitalize on a decade of anticipation. It’s a fun 90-minute ride, but it doesn’t offer anything worth remembering.