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"Evil Dead Rise" (movie review)

It's a tad ironic that horror movies are often the ones that get revived the most; they are forgiven for repeating previous storylines, and often are the cheapest kind of mainstream film to make. That may make me sound a bit cynical (and I am) but I'm also a huge aficionado of the genre nonetheless.

Evil Dead Rise (a title I want to add an "s" to the end or The to the beginning of every time I say it) is the newest update, and akin to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is potentially the first in a new "universe" of this series. Hollywood going back to the well is nothing new, but lest we (and they) forget, the original horror franchise was always a cult favorite to begin with. It was never a commercial hit, but that didn't stop them ten years ago, when producers Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell (who were the director and star, respectively, of the original trilogy) attempted a modern, yet run-of-the-mill remake. That gore-fest was almost an exact retelling of the first Evil Dead movie from 1978. Nonetheless, the 2013 foray into the woods flatlined because it (and this new one to a slightly lesser degree) didn't seem to be able to resurrect the sheer fun of its predecessors.

To its credit, though, Rise elevates itself in a few aspects. Chief among them, the horror. While the original Evil Dead was a low-budget, straight-ahead B-horror film, its sequels, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness were big-budget black comedies. (Evil Dead 2, in fact, was essentially a humorous retelling of the. first film.)

Rise doesn't ascend to those levels, but it does reach heights of gore-porn that would make Eli Roth blush. While there is little to tie this fifth entry in the series to anything that came before, except the presence of a chainsaw (sorry, no Campbell cameo or appearance of the yellow car), writer-director Lee Cronin does pay tributes to many other horror films that likely inspired him, including a nearly plagiarized (sorry, homage) scene to Kubrick's The Shining. I'll let you guess which one.

Cronin succeeds in giving Rise a goth punk aesthetic; gone are the days of gorgeous and spoiled white college kids on Spring Break, getting drunk and having sex in the woods, and they are replaced with the likes of down-on-their-luck and at-the-end-of-their rope losers (the opening scene pokes fun at it with a sharp stick). The film is dark, and I don't mean its tone, although that is true too; due to a power outage and the grimy setting, sometimes it's hard to make out what you're seeing on screen. Even when the characters are bathed in buckets of blood, it resembles something closer to oil. Maybe this is part of the creepy atmosphere the cinematographer is trying to create, but it is a little maddening when you can't be scared because you literally don't know what's right in front of you.

No one is really likable at the beginning, including our protagonist, Beth (Lily Sullivan). We first meet her while she's peeing on a pregnancy test in a disgusting bathroom of a seedy rock club. She's a guitar tech whose band's latest gig is in the same unnamed urban metropolis that her sister, Ellie (a tattoo artist and single mother), lives with her three kids, two of whom are non-binary, the third who is the real-life version of Toy Story's Sid. Just like the adult sisters' lives, the building is falling apart around them, and that's before one of them is possessed by an evil spirit, chanted to life through an old record that Ellie's son, Dan, finds beneath the parking garage following an earthquake. You see, the apartment used to be a bank, and the shaking opens up its old vault where the Book of the Dead has been hidden. (Yeah, it's a bit like the kids finding Jumanji; trying too hard to set it up.) For horror scholars, this pit in the floor is a wink to Cronin's only other feature film, Hole in the Ground.

Once you get past this formulaic introduction, though, the movie turns into a lot of foul-mouthed fun, if ripping out intestines is your sorta thing. Cronin is certainly having a blast with this baby of his, giving the audience more stomach-churning entertainment than the previews would lead you to believe. Let's just say that Linda Blair has nothing on the amount of pea soup hocked up by the characters here.

True to form, there are glaring plot holes that are never cleared up -- like how an elevator works when the building has no power, or why there's a wood chipper in the parking garage of the apartment building -- but then again I ask myself, why am I thinking so hard about a movie where someone recites an invocation from a book that has no words in it?

The film blatantly sets up for a sequel, from the first five minutes, but certainly in the loveably cliched moment when everything seems to be all better. Rise takes place all in one night, and about midway through, a character curses, "You'll all be dead by dawn!" Therefore, if we're following the Planet of the Apes trajectory as previously mentioned, I eagerly await Dawn of the (Evil) Dead, but hopefully sooner than ten years from now.

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