Writer Jimmy Dougan / Images courtesy of StudioCanal UK
Confession time: I’m a massive wuss. A scaredy-cat. A wimp. Gore makes me gag. Jump scares send me flying. So, imagine my delight when I found out the good folks at Birmingham Review were sending me to an exclusive preview screening of the much-hyped Evil Dead Rise, the newest instalment in the beloved Evil Dead series.
I decided to be brave and diligently watched the original Sam Raimi trilogy clutching my not-very-scary dog for protection. To my absolute shock, I bloody loved them. Scary? Very. But incredibly funny too. They have a scrappy, fuck-you attitude that I found irresistible.
My previous nerves shifted into excitement; I practically waltzed into Digbeth’s Mockingbird Cinema salivating at the prospect of a feast of demonically possessed carnage. And I wasn’t left hungry.
Director Lee Cronin’s much-hyped film starts in familiar territory, before veering ingeniously off-road into areas the franchise has previously avoided. It’s a deliciously twisted portrait of a family unit being flung into hell, effortlessly straddling the fine line between horror and comedy.
It made me laugh out loud, then tense so hard I was discovering muscles I never knew I had. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good.
Cronin’s film homes in on Beth (Lily Sullivan), a guitar technician on tour in a grungy LA bar. First seen staring in horror at a positive pregnancy test, she decides to visit her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) for some guidance and a free place to crash. But Ellie has problems of her own: her partner has up and gone, leaving her alone with three children.
Cronin takes his time setting up a clear family dynamic: youngest daughter Kassie (Nell Fisher) is dismantling her toys to make even cooler ones, middle child Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) is too preoccupied with going to protests to notice Ellie’s struggles, and oldest Danny (Morgan Davis) is too wrapped up in collecting vinyl records to take his earphones off.
When an earthquake exposes a hidden vault under their apartment complex, Danny is first to dive in. The inevitably of what’s to follow is dread-inducing; besides some creepy vinyl records, he also retrieves a suspiciously bound leather tome…
It’s quite a lot to pack in. Previous instalments have generally just leaped to carnage and the film’s startling opening promises real shocks, so it’s jarring to spend half an hour in what occasionally feels like a sitcom.
But when the book is opened, hell well and truly breaks loose. What follows is an experience of genuine breathlessness, an overwhelmingly intense headfirst dive into darkness. Cronin has fine-tuned this beast within an inch of its life; tightly scripted and expertly paced, it chews you up and then spits you out battered and bruised at the other end.
It’s relentless and thrilling, but nail-bitingly tense too because Cronin so carefully establishes the family dynamic. Watching them get torn apart (literally and figuratively) is heart-breaking – not an easy task within a genre that tends to treat people as bags of meat simply to be disembowelled and discarded.
Beth and Ellie each have demons of their own, and it’s a testament to Cronin’s writing that the film manages to make meaningful comments about familial bonds, single-parenthood, and working-class domesticity, without compromising on the intensity of the scares.
Sutherland is a terrifying antagonist. There’s one shot of the demonically possessed Ellie peering through the peephole I just know will be in my nightmares for weeks to come. She moves with a balletic grace which makes the savagery of her attacks even more shocking.
The tension is pushed to boiling point by the apartment block setting. The Evil Dead series has typically favoured isolated woodland cabins for sites of carnage. It’s refreshingly horrible that this newest instalment occurs inside a decaying apartment block condemned to demolition.
Cronin exploits the cramped surroundings for some spine-tingling horror. One nail-biting scrap in the family kitchen makes inventive use of various kitchen implements. You’ll never look at a cheese grater the same way again.
The film isn’t perfect. The story is disappointingly predictable. It takes glee in foreshadowing kills but struggles to blindside us narratively. And although the domestic setting certainly ratchets the tension, the film occasionally feels a bit too small in scale.
Yet these are minor issues within a fantastic cinematic experience. Evil Dead Rise is a no holds barred attack on the audience. The cramped setting and brilliant villain create an unceasingly brutal, blackly funny assault on the senses that leaves you both desperate for more and clamouring for fresh air. It’s a must-watch for any genre fan. I loved it.
Horror? Call me converted.
Evil Dead Rise – official trailer
Evil Dead Rise will be screened at Mockingbird Cinema, at The Custard Factory, until 4 May. For listings and links to online ticket sales visit: www.mockingbirdcinema.com/production/evil-dead-rise
To read more about Mockingbird Cinema go to: www.mockingbirdcinema.com