Evil Dead Rise (dir. – Lee Cronin)
Between the OG trilogy, the spin-off TV show, and the 2013 reboot, there isn’t a single second of Evil Dead material that isn’t a total banger (or is at least banger-adjacent), and that trend continues with Evil Dead Rise. Although Fede Alvarez’s insane reboot could just as easily have been considered a sequel given the overall looseness of the canon at large, Evil Dead Rise is officially Evil Dead 4. Fitting that the tone of this bizarre and brutal film lies somewhere between the freewheeling circus-like horror of Raimi’s trilogy and the blood-soaked brutality of the reboot. In fact, I’d say the tone is rather similar to Drag Me to Hell, another movie that I’d be comfortable considering canon to the Evil Dead franchise.
This time around, Ash Williams is not involved. Instead, the affected parties are a single mother, her three kids, and her estranged sister who has recently come home after a long time away traveling the world and working as a guitar tech. Instead of a cabin, it’s a high rise apartment building (get it? RISE? RIIIISE? GET IT?!?!?). An earthquake hits, opening a hole in the building’s parking garage. What’s in the hole? An abandoned safe. What’s in the safe? Naturom Demonto, one of the three books Ash encountered in Army of Darkness. You know what happens next.
Once the evil is unleashed, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) takes the brunt of it and becomes a full blown Deadite in no time at all. Now it’s up to her sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) to protect her nieces and nephew from their own flesh and blood, all the while avoiding the evil that is slowly overtaking the entire building. Both actresses are tasked with going big and getting absolutely soaked in red. With the bulk of Evil Dead cinema being male-led, having a duo of women at the forefront, both going as big as the material will allow, is a nice change of pace that still feels very of a piece with what came before. Sutherland in full Deadite mode is one of the scariest entities to exist inside a franchise already filled with inspired baddies.
Rise wastes no time getting into things. After an opening sequence that isn’t contextualized until much later in the film, we’re pretty much off to the races. At just over 90 minutes, there really isn’t any room for fat, and writer/director Lee Cronin manages to use every single minute to its fullest and most horrifying capacity. The influence of the original films is felt in the staging of the scares (shout out to Viy, whose final fright sequence inspires the rhythm of all things Evil Dead). Deadites crave chaos, and Rise provides precisely that. Once Ellie has her milky white eyeballs firmly set on destruction, there is really nothing but violent calamity until the credits roll. Not a minute goes by without some sort of bloodletting, and when it comes to determining who can die and how, absolutely nothing is sacred. This is a profoundly cruel movie, as it should be. Its aggressive nature leaves little room for thematic resonance, however, but that’s something which the only the 2013 reboot ever tried to invoke in the first place. Evil Dead has always been predominantly about delivering roller coaster thrills and exhibiting rugged filmmaking know how.
This isn’t to say it’s thematically empty. Rise dances around concepts of motherhood and responsibility, but these are not at the forefront, nor should they be. Perhaps a repeat viewing (of which there will certainly be many) will crack this open more, but if it doesn’t, it’s not a mark against the film. Evil Dead Rise delivers on everything that it should, up to and including a feature length game of Chekhov’s name-that-appliance, a chainsaw-wielding badass, and so much practical blood that the mop budget must’ve been sky high. There’s a scene on an elevator that…well, you’ll see.
And there’s another scene on an elevator that…well, you’ll see.
With Evil Dead Rise, Lee Cronin had many masters to serve. His film needed to please four decades worth of fans, while also being accessible enough to exist in a vacuum for new viewers. It needed to deliver the first canonical Evil Dead movie without its prominently-chinned lead. It needed to be scary and funny, without leaning so far one way that it feels deceitful to the other. Welp, against all odds, mission: accomplished. Evil Dead is alive and well. Groovy!
Talk to Me (dir.- Danny Philippou & Michael Philippou)
I am now much older than the teenagers at the center of Talk to Me, but I wish to use their parlance for just a second before we get started with this review.
Talk to Me is one of the scariest movies I have ever seen, no cap.
Featured as the secret screening at this year’s Overlook Film Festival was Talk to Me, an Aussie spooker which A24 snapped up at Sundance. It’s easy to see why they did. The film oozes a unique, contemporary style, featuring a diverse cast of youngsters all placed into some of the most innovative peril this side of It Follows. And while Talk to Me might not be as sharp as David Robert Mitchell’s masterpiece, the shaggy edges it bears are very much a part of the charm. The Philippou brothers came from YouTube, where their RackaRacka channel features live-action horror comedy videos with a style that they have effectively translated to feature length. Talk to Me isn’t as expressly comic, but the nature of the scares, and the construction of the film’s more shrieky moments are very much in that YouTube style. Alongside stuff like Skinamarink and The Outwaters, it’s been interesting to see how the TikTok era creates horror for the big screen. Those two films apply their style in more of an abstract sense, as is required when working in found footage and in, uhhhh, whatever genre you’d call Skinamarink. Applied here in a more formal sense, the cinematic urgency borne of a generation that is always on camera is very much in play.
And is very VERY scary.
Much like It Follows, the concept ends up being the star of the film, at least at first. Here, it takes the form of a ceramic (or is it?) hand that possesses magic powers. When a person holds it and says ‘talk to me’ they are immediately connected to a world beyond ours where the recently deceased now reside. Furthermore, if you say “I let you in” the hand-holder becomes a medium for whatever spirit wishes to inhabit their body. For Mia (Sophie Wilde) and her friends, it’s a hell of a party trick, perfect for making spooky videos to post online. Ending the possession is as simple as blowing out a candle and letting go of the hand, but as these things go, the fun starts to get very serious, very quickly. Add to that Mia’s current state of grief over her recently deceased mother, and these single-serving possessions get squirrely in ways that would be a tragedy to spoil.
The concept is plot-heavy, but the execution keeps things simple. There is no handwringing over why what’s happening is happening — it just doesn’t matter. All we need to know is that the hand works, and that teenagers do dumb shit sometimes because being a teenager is confusing.
The scare sequences increase from unsettling to upsetting at an exponential rate, and all are in service of a group of deeply compelling characters, all of whom are motivated in unique ways that are universally easy to empathize with. It’s odd to say this about a horror movie, but for the first time in a long time I was made to remember what it feels like to be a teenager. This is a rarity in horror (unhelped by the fact that so many onscreen ‘teenagers’ are pushing thirty). At the same time, the parental characters are given more than just background duty, and are, as a result, just as easy to relate to. The legendary Miranda Otto does wonderful work here as a mother who remains on the outside of the hauntings, but is in a position to simultaneously try to contain the mess and protect her family. In summation, Talk to Me succeeds in heeding Hitchcock’s famous advice. Namely, that if the audience doesn’t care about the characters, the horror isn’t very effective.
It also heeds another Hitchcock quote: “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”