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Quick Reviews: 'Evil Dead Rise', 'The Exorcist: Believer' | Supernatural Horror Franchises Strike Back

Lily Sullivan holding a chainsaw, possessed Lidya Jewett and Olivia O'Neill looking up
Evil Dead Rise (L), The Exorcist: Believer (R)


Reading may not always be as fun or safe as people say it is. Writer-director Lee Cronin takes over the 'Evil Dead' franchise with Evil Dead Rise, a much welcomed standalone entry to the supernatural horror saga (apparently somehow not based on anything according to the credits). After a seemingly random prologue that features a strong contender for the best title card of the year in cinema, we meet a family of four—mom Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), older daughter Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), son Danny (Morgan Davies) and younger daughter Kassie (Nell Fisher)—who receive a visit from Ellie's estranged, pregnant sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) in their Los Angeles apartment. A sudden earthquake reveals a secret chamber in the apartment complex's parking garage where Danny finds old vinyl records and a mysterious book. These conjure the presence of demons, known as ''deadites'', whose onslaught the quintet must now survive.

''Rise'' takes the familiar haunted house approach, downsizing it to an apartment but still filling it with a family dynamic that's trying to put aside grievances in order to overcome something bigger than themselves. That's very easy for a viewer to grasp, though the following sequence of events is often quite haphazard as the basic rules of this demonic situation are blurry at their best and totally missing at their worst. Perhaps the movie relies on some existing knowledge of the lore, which yours truly lacks, although that would undermine the standalone nature. Once we get past some of those plot mechanics and middling dialogue regarding Ellie and Beth's history, Cronin and the cast breathe new life into the movie as they get to embrace grotesque and extremely bloody horror madness. The building becomes a maze of terror where the deadites use the characters' resentments and mistakes in order to become more and more powerful.

The final act is ultimately where Rise takes hold of you with Cronin's tight direction, Luke Polti's practical makeup designs and strong performances by Sullivan and Fisher leading the charge. It's also the part that's less interested in lore and more interested in the characters' primal instincts, which is always compelling and entertaining to watch. It fully commits to the bit—and bits of human anatomy—as the style and motivations blend together neatly. Even the coda succeeds as a palette cleanser, making the title card drop even more satisfying in retrospect.

Smileys: Makeup, ending

Frowneys: Story


Lily Sullivan covered in blood and holding a chainsaw
Warner Bros. Pictures


Does the power of money compel you, Hollywood? Just crank out an endless amount of horror sequels. The Exorcist: Believer arrives just in time to stand as a direct sequel to 1973's supernatural horror 'The Exorcist' (again apparently somehow not based on anything according to the credits); you simply need to forget about the other instalments that came and went in between. This time we follow photographer Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.), a widowed single dad of teen daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) whose mom Sorenne (Tracey Graves) died whilst giving birth to her. Victor has to learn the ways to repel the forces of evil when Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O'Neill) begin to show signs of demonic possession after having gone missing. Researching exorcism as an option, Victor seeks help from neighbour Ann (Ann Dowd) and none other than Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) who experienced all of this 50 years ago.

The money rolling in might come in very handy indeed because the direction by David Gordon Green or his screenwriting alongside co-writer Peter Sattler won't be possessing audiences' minds for years to come. Seemingly chopped into pieces, the movie desperately lacks any kind of momentum or fright that you'd expect from an entry in this genre or franchise. Victor and Angela are mere objects whose dialogue and reactions are only in the service of a thing that must occur in the next few scenes so we can get to the possession and exorcism—exemplified by the latter's heavenly name that just needs to invite the hellish demon to come and play. The writing and Tim Alverson's turbulent editing can't make heads or tails of what the movie wants to be about as the filmmakers keep stacking unconnected scenes on top of each other until the weight of it all becomes too much and everything comes crashing down.

Even if you were to give Green and other creatives a benefit of the doubt in the sense that they—and not the suits—decided to sacrifice solid character arcs and strong themes for horror jolts, you'd walk out extremely disappointed. ''Believer'' mostly waddles from one set piece to another without a real sense of danger or doom, leaving you frustrated or even bored for most of it. At least hell has barbecues, this film gives you straight up nothing.

Smileys: Nothing stands out

Frowneys: Atmosphere, editing, screenplay


Lidya Jewett and Olivia O'Neill seemingly possessed, tied up in chairs and looking up
Universal Pictures

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