Beth, played by Lily Sullivan, reaches for the hand of her late sister in "Evil Dead Rise." (Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

On the Screen: ‘Evil Dead Rise’ is fun horror to start the summer season

“Evil Dead Rise” stands confidently among its predecessors

There’s a subset of horror films that are more fun than they’ll ever be scary. The “Evil Dead” films have always fit that mold — and probably did a lot to pioneer it — for their silly tone and truly over-the-top bloody effects.

“Evil Dead Rise,” the fifth film in the series and also the fourth first film in the series, stands confidently among its predecessors, matching their tone even as it takes the series largest departure yet — even more so than the time-traveling fantasy action third film — by telling a slightly more heady tale in a very different setting.

I didn’t leave the theater Monday wholly changed by the experience of watching “Rise.” Its themes of motherhood and isolation lacked the resolution to really bring revelation. The film isn’t a masterpiece that will leave me thinking for the next few weeks, but it was a breezy 97 minutes of horror fun, a perfect appetizer for a packed and oncoming summer slate.

Most of the previous “Evil Dead” films have been set in a variety of cabins in the woods — each containing a demonic tome, a shotgun and a chain saw. “Rise,” in stark contrast, is set in Los Angeles, in a rundown apartment building. Of course, that rundown apartment building does still contain a demonic tome, a shotgun and a chain saw.

The film largely follows a family living in the apartment building, mother Ellie, played by Alyssa Sutherland, and her three children — reeling from their recent abandonment by the children’s father. They’re joined by Ellie’s sister Beth, played by Lily Sullivan, who is struggling with the realization that she is pregnant.

Beth is quickly forced into the motherhood role that has given her pause when her sister is killed and possessed by a demonic entity inadvertently summoned when the children find a mysterious, occult text in a closed space below their apartment building. What happens next is a bloody battle for survival that leaves many residents of the apartment building dead, and myself just a little nauseated.

The change in setting from cabin in the woods to urban apartment building is used to entirely refresh the franchise’s toolkit. The film draws on recognizable fears and discomforts of domesticity by using household items for its most gruesome moments. Its characters feel more isolated in a building full of people than they ever could lost in the woods.

One of the most fun and imaginative set-pieces in “Rise” is shown entirely through the peephole at the apartment’s front door — where for once the film doesn’t show the gory details. Instead, only brief glimpses of the horrific action can be seen through the forced perspective of the door — as residents fight desperately for survival mostly off-screen.

“Rise,” like the four films before it, follows a sort of structure that I would liken to horror video games. In its opening hour, the monsters, called Deadites, are unstoppable fiends that can only be held back. In the last 30 minutes, Beth has an impactful character revelation, then takes up iconic weaponry and is recast as an action hero, battling back evil to rescue a child with her skin literally painted red with blood.

It’s the same power curve seen in games like “Resident Evil” or “Dead Space,” where initial hopelessness falls away by a triumphant and explosive final act. It’s fun to see the tide shift, to watch Beth become self-actualized and to watch the monsters on the receiving end for a change.

“Evil Dead Rise” is an easy win for horror fans, even if it is at times a little aggressive with the kitchen equipment. This franchise is fascinating for all of its fits and starts — this film the third reboot, following “Evil Dead II” in 1987 and “Evil Dead” in 2013. It’s also the second consecutive to feature a tease appearance by original lead Ash Williams.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately by original “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi, Ash Williams actor Bruce Campbell, and “Rise” director Lee Cronin for a brighter and more frequently active future for the series — and I’d be interested in seeing more, especially if they continue to explore the more emotional threads introduced in this latest entry.

“Evil Dead Rise” will be playing this weekend at Kenai Cinemas and the Orca Theater. Check showtimes and purchase tickets at catheaters.com or orcatheater.com.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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