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  • Jeff Beck

Evil Dead Rise: A Step in the Right Direction (Blu-ray)


The Film:


After the 2013 "Evil Dead" reboot failed to impress both critics & audiences alike with its pointless, gratuitous bloodbath, it was decided that it was time to put the idea of another film on the back burner for a little while, and instead attempt the series' first television iteration (with original star Bruce Campbell in the lead, no less). "Ash vs. Evil Dead" was well-received, but after three all-too-brief seasons, it was cancelled due to low viewership (basically the opposite problem of the reboot, which did well at the box office, but received negative reviews). Afterwards, it didn't take long for rumblings of another "Evil Dead" film to start up, which brings us to Lee Cronin's "Evil Dead Rise," a new take on the material that fans have been anxiously awaiting. The big question is: Has Cronin been able to succeed where Fede Alvarez failed?


The film begins with a brief prologue that has three youngsters vacationing at a cabin by a lake, which ultimately ends up with one of them getting possessed and killing the other two. We then jump a day earlier and meet Beth (Lily Sullivan), a guitar technician who is just learning that she is pregnant. She decides to go visit her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a single mother to Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), Danny (Morgan Davies), and youngest Kassie (Nell Fisher), all of whom live in an apartment in a condemned LA high-rise.


Shortly after Beth's arrival, an earthquake strikes while the kids are in the underground parking deck, revealing an old chamber from the bank that used to be there. Danny explores it, bringing back some old records and a book that he finds. He plays the records and discovers that they contain a translation of The Book of the Dead. Naturally, this unleashes an evil force in the building that first attacks and possesses Ellie, who subsequently attacks her family. It's up to Beth and the three kids to stay alive and find a way to escape the confines of the deadly high-rise.


As mentioned, the 2013 "Evil Dead" reboot had been pretty far off the mark as to what a film in this series should be. Instead of being fun and over the top, it quickly de-evolved into being an exercise to see how much blood the filmmakers could put on the screen and how many twisted, sadistic situations they could put the characters in. Ten years later, Lee Cronin has taken on writing & directing duties, and shows pretty quickly that he has realized that mistakes were made in the previous film. However, that's not to say that it doesn't have a few problems of its own.


For starters, the "wrap-around" story serves no purpose here at all, other than to somewhat spoil an ending that any "Evil Dead" fan would see coming. It's a rather short film, running at about 90 minutes, so it feels more so like this was added for time filler to pad out the movie a bit, but in actuality it was rather unnecessary. Then there's the film's rather slow start. It does a fine job of introducing the main characters, and injecting it with some decent emotion, but it ends up taking nearly half the movie for things to get properly started. Again, with the film's short runtime & simple premise, this could've been Cronin padding the film out more, but sooner or later, the audience is going to want something to happen (and for a film in this series, it's not hard to guess what that is).


The second half is where Cronin starts to deliver exactly what the fans want, and the impressive thing is that it's over the top in spots, but not insanely over the top. There's plenty of gore, but not in overly-gratuitous amounts (there's one sequence that has quite a lot of blood, but it doesn't belong to anyone in particular, so it's the one rather odd exception). This part of the film does pretty well, that is, up until the climax, which needed a little work. It's not a bad finale, but it does come off as just a little lazy and contrived. To avoid spoilers, let's just say that the direction Cronin takes the antagonists was not the best way to go, leading to less thrills than there otherwise might have been.


Overall, "Evil Dead Rise" is undoubtedly a far better entry than the previous film and contains a fair amount of what fans are looking for, but it ultimately has a few too many issues to be able to fully recommend. That said, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Cronin, for the most part, understands the assignment: Mix deadite thrills with some blood, and give us some characters we care about enough to root for. The ingredients are in there, he just needed to give it a few rewrites here and there to fine tune it. After seeing the progress made here, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing him try again, and with this film's warmer reception, it wouldn't be at all surprising if he's given that chance.


Video/Audio:


"Evil Dead Rise" comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. In typical horror movie fashion, this is a very dark film throughout most of its runtime, but the picture always remains perfectly clear and sharp. Likewise, the Dolby Atmos-TrueHD audio track is fantastic, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and score in excellent quality. Overall, Warner Bros. has done a wonderful job in both departments for the film's home release, which will no doubt please the horror hounds wanting to add it to their collection.


Special Features:


In a shocking twist, there are inexplicably no bonus features on the disc, marking the first time in years that I've seen that happen. The situation is made even more stranger by the fact that Cronin made it publicly known that he was doing a commentary for the film, so as to what happened to it, we can only guess. Bare minimum, this should've had a commentary and a "Making of" featurette or two, ultimately making this a really big missed opportunity to showcase some fascinating behind the scenes material.


Conclusion:


Lee Cronin's "Evil Dead Rise" is definitely a step in the right direction for the series, and is easily a major improvement upon the 2013 reboot, but a few small pacing & writing issues hold it back a little too much from getting where it needs to be. That said, I do hope Cronin tries again. This is the closest we've gotten to a solid "Evil Dead" film since the originals, with it hitting many of the right notes along the way. After feedback consideration, another entry could result in something even better.


Score: 3/5


Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.



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