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“I want to bring you in, then scare the pants off you”, director Lee Cronin discusses Evil Dead Rise
06 Apr 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Evil Dead Rise
Lee Cronin (The Hole In The Ground) speaks with us about his upcoming film Evil Dead Rise, which releases in Irish cinemas later this month.

Evil Dead Rise, the latest instalment in the Evil Dead series, is written and directed by Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin. The Warner Bros. production is being produced by New Line Cinema and Wild Atlantic Pictures, as well as Ghost House Pictures, and Department of Post.

The film follows two estranged sisters whose reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them into a family’s battle for survival.

The project began when Cronin was approached by Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II), shortly after his feature debut The Hole In The Ground debuted at Sundance in 2019.

“A24, the distributor in the US, were doing press screenings. And someone who works with Sam had seen the movie at a press screening and said to Sam ‘You need to go watch this’,” director Lee Cronin told IFTN. “So Sam got into another press screening, and then reached out to me via his team to ask if I was going to be back in LA and if we could sit down and have a conversation.”

Shortly after this, Raimi and Cronin met at a sushi restaurant to discuss potential projects.

“It was my last meeting before I flew back to Ireland. We talked about everything but Evil Dead. I'm a fan, so I didn't really want to push the buttons. We talked about lots of different possible projects, and I asked if they wanted to do something with Evil Dead, and Sam was like ‘Oh, my God, we really want to do something, why would you be interested?’. I was like ‘Well, I'm a fan and a filmmaker so I'd be happy to talk about it more’. He said ‘Okay, well, let's start talking about it’ and it went from there.”

“As is often the case, it's a series of conversations, until I went back to them and said ‘Okay, this is the type of story that I want to tell’. They were really intrigued with where I was coming from and how I didn't want to necessarily replicate what had been done before. From there, I outlined the story and started working on the screenplay.”

Evil Dead Rise is executive produced by Sam Raimi, the director who began the horror franchise, and Bruce Campbell, who starred in the lead role of Ash in the original trilogy of films and comedy series spin-off Ash vs. Evil Dead. The two exec producers gave Cronin the freedom to take the series in his own unique direction, while also making themselves available to give feedback.

“When it came to the final cut of the movie, of course there's always different opinions, but their attitude was ‘You're the filmmaker we've trusted to this point, so even though we might like this bit a little bit more, we're not going to force you to do anything’. Because ultimately, if you hire somebody, you need to back them.”

“The guys were there to support me and it was great to be able to pick up the phone and say ‘What do you think of this? Is this Scary? Cool? Funny?’ and get that little bit of input during the writing process. We’d jump on Zoom calls, get someone to read the script, and just have fun with it. We’d talk about the different ideas in the script and that was a really fun part of the process. I'm a big fan and have huge respect for Sam Raimi, so to see him reacting to crazy stuff in your screenplay and going ‘Oh, my God, that's so fucked up’. That was a nice moment.”

Both Evil Dead Rise and Cronin’s debut The Hole in the Ground are horror films centred around mothers. When asked what makes motherhood such a good engine for horror, Cronin explains the importance of grounding genre-filmmaking in a subject that the audience are familiar with:

“I like horror that's built into something that's familiar to people. Doesn't necessarily have to be about a mother, family is a great shortcut to connect with an audience. Everybody has some sense of family, everybody has some sense of what home is. What I want to do is bring you in, and then scare the pants off you. So if I can do that by getting you to engage with something you understand, I can get to you quicker.”

One of the unique qualities of the film in the context of the series, is that it moves the action of the Evil Dead series out of the woods and into the city. Cronin spoke about paying homage to the origins of the franchise in the film’s cold open, while also putting his own spin on the material.

“With the opening of the movie, what I wanted to do was give you a taste of what you'd seen before, the teenagers, the cabin in the woods, that kind of feel, and then pull the rug from under you. But also give you a taste of what the experience of the movie is going to be. I always loved the idea that if you encountered the book, it could kind of happen anywhere, and I liked the idea of bringing it into the home.”

“I’m a fan, but I'm also a filmmaker and a professional. I've got my own vision and my own voice. So, the process was about finding the characters, the circumstances, the metaphor in the story. And then I was able to just have a hell of a good time. There’s things I wanted to do new versions of or do in slightly different ways. There's things we haven't seen in an Evil Dead movie before in terms of the monstrosities and the things that emerge as the film progresses towards its conclusion. It was fun to be able to dip into the past, but also bring in a bunch of fresh ideas and recontextualize things.”

Part of the inspiration to keep the story contained within an apartment came from advice that producer Rob Tapert (Army of Darkness, Evil Dead) imparted on Cronin.

“It was Rob Tapert, the producer, said to me ‘Don't forget that Evil Dead is always super contained’. I got what he meant because, for the most part, it's just inside the cabin in the woods. It has all the same structure as a previous Evil Dead movie, it's just there's no basement. The front door of the house becomes like the door to the basement. The corridor is kind of like the forest, there's that little bit of space to move around. That claustrophobia was a great piece of advice, the more I trapped people inside that world the more frightening it could become. It’s a chamber piece, but it's probably one of the most technically complicated and visually crazy chamber pieces I could have tried to create.”

Cronin explains that the nature of the film necessitated building sets, rather than shooting on location.

“We built everything because with a movie like this with so many stunts and physical effects you need maximum control. This was never gonna be something where you're going to find a house, because I needed to be able to move walls, I needed to be able to destroy things. I needed to be able to cover everything in blood, vomit, slime, you name it.”

The Evil Dead films are renowned for their practical in-camera effects. A long-time fan of the series, Cronin committed early on to continuing this tradition while also using CGI to enhance these SFX.

“In contemporary filmmaking, there's always some CGI in play, but this movie is probably somewhere around 90 to 95% practical. Generally, my approach is to use CG to enhance. I'll use it to smooth out an edge on something or to extend the set slightly. There was not a single stunt effect, horror moment, attack, assault, stabbing, anything like that, that we didn't try and find the most practical solution we could. We shot for 63 days, and also the second unit for 30 days, so overall we were rolling camera for 93 days on a movie set mostly in one apartment. Which is pretty wild, but that was because of the level of stunts and physical effects.”

The film was shot in New Zealand, with most cast members hailing from either Australia or New Zealand. At the time of production, COVID-19 safety measures meant that Cronin had to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival to New Zealand, during which time he watched casting tapes. Cronin explained that casting in film sometimes happens later than people might expect, with the film “slightly up and running as you're making your final decisions”, and that at this point the beginning of production was only three months away.

Evil Dead Rise stars Lily Sullivan (I Met a Girl, Barkskins), Alyssa Sutherland (The Mist, Vikings), Morgan Davies (Storm Boy, The End), Gabrielle Echols (Reminiscence), and introduces Nell Fisher (Northspur).

As Evil Dead Rise has a family at the focus of the film, much like Cronin’s debut, this means working with children on the set of a horror. Unlike The Shining in which actor Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrance) didn’t know the genre of the film until seeing it himself as an adult, Cronin explains that the visceral nature of the Evil Dead series requires being honest with young performers about the nature of the film, making sure they understand what they’re seeing is make-believe, and making the filmmaking process fun.

“I think with The Shining you can bring a kid on set and pull the wool over their eyes, because it's so psychological, but Evil Dead is purely visceral. I've done it before, I've worked with kids a bunch of times. I think it's because I'm kind of a child of Amblin, I'm a big Spielberg fan. There’s always kids in peril, and I just ramped it up to 11 on this one in comparison to something like E.T.”

“I suppose from my perspective, you just treat them with respect. When you're casting a young performer, you're also looking to their parents to understand what they're like, and they've got to understand what the script is. Luckily Nell’s dad is an Evil Dead fan which really helps. But it's also up to that young performer if they want to do this. Nell’s highly intelligent and was really excited to work on the movie.” 

“What I do is I bring them on the inside of what we're doing. There's certain things you protect them from in the script, certain language and stuff they don't need to read, but you still have to be honest with them and explain what it is that you're doing. So with Nell it’s like ‘Hey, I’m doing vomit tests today with puke rigs, do you want to come along and press the button?’ You bring them on the inside of what's happening, so it feels like Halloween. But you can only do that with a young performer that's intelligent enough to then separate the fact that they know it's all make believe and give you a great performance. I think we’re gonna see a lot of Nell very soon. She’s super talented, and the same goes for the whole cast.”

As well as working with new collaborators, such as cast and crew in New Zealand and originators of the Evil Dead franchise, this project saw Cronin continue his collaborations with exec producers Macdara Kelleher and John Keville among others.

“One of the things I love about filmmaking is being able to form long lasting relationships. I'm a big fan of Lord of the Rings and I always loved seeing the same company name and some of the same people on the front of Bad Taste as Lord of the Rings. So if I find people that I have a good working relationship with, I love being able to keep those people close.”

“It was great being able to bring my producers, and my composer Stephen McKeon on the journey. Daire Glynn, the same first assistant director as The Hole in the Ground, travelled all the way over to New Zealand. It's something that I actually kind of lean into, I found new people on this journey that I now want to bring on to my next movie.”

After shooting, the Ireland/New Zealand co-production commenced post-production in Ireland, working with Irish talent across sound, visual effects, and picture editing.

“Just like the rest of the movie, the film is very internationally populated. My sound designer [Peter Albrechtsen] is from Denmark. We worked with the Foley Lab team over here in Ireland who were amazing, as well as some other sound people from here like Gareth Farrell from Screen Scene. In post-production, we had a lot of Irish talent onboard, which is great. It's part of how I like to make movies. I jokingly say in meetings, when I'm in the US, it's like ‘Give me your dollars and let me bring them back home and make stuff’."

Cronin’s next feature, Thaw, was recently reported by IFTN. It is a New Line film with an original spec script written by Jeremy Passmore (San Andreas, Red Dawn). Cronin shared some details with us about his next directorial outing:

“I can't say a whole lot. All I can say is that Thaw is a project New Line brought to me in response to Evil Dead. It’s another horror story about a family in a very different context. It's more of a monster movie than a supernatural tale, which is something I'm interested in. I'm currently doing a major rewrite on the screenplay.”

“It's a terrifyingly near-future story. It's set at the end of that process of the polar ice caps melting, when we're no longer reporting in the news that it's going to happen, and it actually has happened. Man knows more about outer space than under the sea, so there's many things that are possible.”

Evil Dead Rise releases in Irish cinemas on April 21st.





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