May 18th, 2023 at 3:03 pm EDT
The 2013 Evil Dead reboot was a movie that had to prove itself worthy of the name but against all odds actually proved it could be worthy of a new one — if anyone with the IP were so brave as to pursue it. They weren’t. Instead, a decade later we get Rise, a Marvel-esque paradox wherein something so ambitious still can seem so safe.
Rise follows rookie characters for the franchise, two sisters defined by the different eras in which they find themselves: Beth (Lily Sullivan) is a single guitar technician, and Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is a single mom of three, newly separated.
Ellie’s kids are earnest, her neighbors, clutch in a crisis. The opening half hour is more than promising; it’s entertaining independent of its expository aim. But the tension in Rise quickly devolves into a no-veil cycle wherein a demon pretends it’s not one, then still is. Over an hour on and the variables to swap are limited to two: a character who bafflingly just witnessed the same gag played on another but still harbors hope, and the room in which the switcheroo takes place. Dizzying, uncountable cycles.
A stellar central performance from Sutherland generated a great deal of buzz — her work here is extremely impressive, and she clearly went through makeup hell — but what she conjures is only ever for the next gag and aided by gnarly contacts. Sullivan is the one who successfully summons range.
The ending is novel and fun, but when a work touted as one of the genre’s modern best can only reliably boast its punctuation before and after, then either the genre is weak, or those susceptible to the color red have mistaken Hollywood brutality for Hollywood bravery. Narrative, visual, whatever. Only in a landscape sprouted with safe-bet PG-13’s does a cartoon storyboard like Rise’s look creative. The best writing is in the movie’s actual, well, writing, characters navigating relationships and consequences, i.e., story. The violence by contrast starts to feel like ChatGPT roulette.
An indelible title card and clever ending can’t save this one from being what an Evil Dead movie never should be: boring. If you want visceral, hit the 2013 effort. For slapstick, dig up the 1981 sequel. But if you’re looking for the syntax of horror, repeated on screen for you like study cards, look no further.