As soon Cronin’s 2023 film introduces a coterie of neighbors and acquaintances for Ellie’s family, the movie lulls the most jaded viewers like myself into a sense of complacency: Here is the film’s cannon fodder. And sure enough, those tertiary characters die screaming. It’s a mockingly self-aware subversion, though, that possessed Ellie eviscerates them off-screen, with her sister Auntie Beth (Lily Sullivan) and the audience struggling to glimpse the carnage through an apartment door’s peephole as an entire tenement floor is sent home to Jesus (or the other place).
These characters add to the bodycount, but they’re not the source of the film’s main sense of horror. Rather Evil Dead Rise prefers going there—breaking a taboo that neither Kubrick or even Aliens-era James Cameron would dream of: It kills the kids. Not only does it kill the children, but it makes their corruption and eventual mutilation the result of a mother’s, err, affection. It’s also treated as a punchline in humor darker than a moonless night.
This begins with poor Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), the teenage daughter of Ellie and the audience surrogate who tells her brother Danny (Morgan Davies) not to take the Book of the Dead from that bank vault or to open it. She’s thus the first kid to be damned to the fires of hell. When her mother attacks, she initially comes close to losing an eye. Instead she is left with a scar across the cheek.
This would be the typical “close call” in wide release American horror movies…. and yet that nick across the face festers, molders, and within a few scenes is spreading over the rest of her body as she’s vomiting maggots in the kitchen. By the time her aunt discovers something is wrong, she’s chewing on a wine glass, vividly swallowing sharp broken shards while saying in a snickering demonic voice, “I have to kill the creepy-crawlies in my tummy.”
Next, Danny, as the dimwit who opened the Book of the Dead, is soon butchered by his sister and likewise comes back as a Deadite. And through it all, the youngest child, Kassie (Nell Fisher), lives to see her mother, her sister, and then her last remaining sibling turn into rotting ghouls cackling at the prospect of dismembering her.
The film, fortuitously, doesn’t go so far as to kill the youngest child, but all sorts of questions about psychological damage and therapy are raised. Evil Dead Rise even sinks to submerging the kid and her aunt in a full Kubrickian blood bath before it gushes out of an elevator, and the little girl then seeing her mother and siblings turned into a Cronenberg-like monstrosity of intermingled flesh that Aunt Beth winds up chainsawing and kicking into a metal-shredder.