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BLOODLINES: Evil Dead Rise has an impossible-to-ignore, pro-choice message in a post-Roe vs Wade world.

By Rebecca Sayce  May 15, 2024 
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On June 24, 2022, America’s Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which guaranteed women the right to an abortion up until the point of fetal viability. Without federal protections, state legislatures determine abortion access, with some going as far as severely restricting it or banning abortion entirely. The move proved highly divisive, with many left decrying the overturn as it left many without a means of vital and safe healthcare. The sheer outrage and fear have seen an outpouring of those turning to art to process their grief and terror, with horror becoming a genre home to many pro-choice pieces in a post-Roe world. Since its inception, horror has been a way for audiences to confront their anxieties without facing them head-on, an impossible task following Roe v Wade, the loss of which has already had devastating real-world consequences. As such, these films have become protest pieces fighting back against those who further stripped women of their bodily autonomy and reproductive rights with unmatched ferocity.

 

The EVIL DEAD franchise has hacked and slashed its way into our hearts since the first film shocked cinema audiences in 1981, with lashings of gore and witty one-liners. But the franchise is no stranger to more powerful messaging between Ash Williams’ jokes and the Deadites’ brand of violent chaos. The first film and Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake both included scenes in which their female lead characters were raped by trees, becoming possessed by demons in the process. Director Sam Raimi even described the original sequence as ‘unnecessarily gratuitous’ (per Screen Rant), but it would not be the only time an EVIL DEAD film tackled the theme of female bodily autonomy being ripped from them and the devastating effects that follow.

Directed by Lee Cronin, 2023’s EVIL DEAD RISE follows Beth who reunites with her estranged sister Ellie after discovering she is pregnant. While visiting Ellie and her children - Bridget, Danny, and Kassie - she discovers that Ellie and her husband Jay have separated, with Ellie reaching out to Beth for comfort but being ignored. While the sisters hash out their simmering resentments, the children travel to get pizza and are in their apartment block’s parking garage when an earthquake hits. In the aftermath, vaults beneath the dilapidated building are uncovered leading Danny to find the Book of the Dead, unleashing hell when he opens its pages and plays vinyl recordings of the readings within. Through Ellie’s possession and Beth’s pregnancy, EVIL DEAD RISE can be seen as a powerful pro-choice film that explores the horrors of parenthood, pregnancy, and maternal mental health in a postmodern society.

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The film begins with Beth discovering she’s pregnant while on tour as a guitar tech. She finds out the news in a grim, dismal toilet stall with loud music playing in the background, personifying the new duality in her life of her carefree career on the road, and looming parenthood. It can also be seen to signify the loneliness she feels at the prospect of becoming a mother as she is isolated in the bathroom stall, a claustrophobic setting tight around her character.  After finding out the news she rushes to her sister Ellie’s apartment in Los Angeles for comfort, herself a mother of three children. When we’re introduced to Ellie her apartment is filled with clutter and shouting between her children, while she is covered in hair dye and putting together her tattoo machine, a job which directly sees her deal with other people’s bodily autonomy. Ellie speaks to her eldest daughter Bridget and reveals she isn’t aware of her plans and social life, before shifting her role as a parent to Bridget as she asks her brother Danny to turn his music down and tends to her youngest sister Kassie. Rather than being portrayed as an inattentive or neglectful parent, EVIL DEAD RISE frames Ellie as a single mother on the edge after her husband has abandoned his family. Struggling to make ends meet and parent three children alone while maintaining a career, Ellie is burning out under the strain of being in a parenting situation she did not choose and that has seen her trapped under a sea of responsibility and the needs of others. Beth, meanwhile, is consistently reduced to her body and her sexuality, referred to as a “groupie” by Ellie and her neighbour rather than by her name similar to how expectant parents within the healthcare system are frequently reduced to the fetus they are growing and the importance of their health, putting their own aside.

The hardships of motherhood are furthered by Ellie and Beth’s perception of their own mother, whom we don’t meet in the film. Ellie asks Beth if she has been sleeping as she ‘looks like mom’ when they first meet, an ironic comment given Ellie’s frazzled appearance as she is introduced and a metaphor for the cycle of mothers carrying the brunt of the parental load continuing through generations. This load begins to become too much for Ellie as an earthquake hits their building, at which point we see a close-up shot of a mug with the message ‘Hey Mom you’re the bomb’ shaking. Ellie can be seen as the bomb ready to explode, both under the weight of her responsibilities as a parent and as a foreshadowing of the carnage that unfolds.

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After Danny discovers the Naturom Demonto and vinyl recordings of its text, he brings them into the apartment. He plays them on his record player, unleashing the demon within that possesses Ellie as she travels in the elevator. Rather than the rape scenes of previous EVIL DEAD instalments, Ellie’s bones are contorted as the demon enters her body, which can itself be seen as a pregnancy as she carries the entity inside her body. This is furthered when she returns to the apartment and her transformation into a Deadite begins with her vomiting profusely, a symptom of pregnancy. When the family discovers Ellie in her new state, she is cracking eggs in a pan that fills with blood, which can be seen as a metaphor representing dying embryos. The act of destroying the eggs is the first time Ellie smiles, which can be seen as her celebrating her desire to destroy her children to unburden herself from her life as a stressed-out single parent.  In her final act as Ellie, before she becomes a Deadite, she tells Beth to “not let it take her babies”, further thrusting Beth into the role of a parent that she does not want to take.

 

Now a Deadite, she is frequently violent towards her children and Beth, celebrating that she is “free from all you titty-sucking parasites” and using the children’s nursery rhyme Eenie Meenie to decide which of her brood she will kill first. When attempting to manipulate Kassie into letting her back into the apartment when she is locked out, she sings, "Hush away baby, babe not mine” denying her motherly connection to her offspring. If Ellie’s possession is seen as a pregnancy, her actions towards her children and sister can be seen as a representation of severe perinatal mental health issues that can affect expectant parents and the violent mood swings and delusions that can occur. She tells Kassie that “Mommy’s with the maggots now”, which can show her transformation as a Deadite as her ultimate desire for the parenting side of her personality to die so that she can be free of her responsibilities as a result of her situation making her resentful towards her children. The pregnant Beth, meanwhile, has a crash course in parenthood as she is thrust into the role of mother, forced to care for her nephew and nieces in mortal danger posed by their mother.

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The first-person Ellie kills is indeed a child neighbour, while her second is her eldest daughter Bridget for whom she passes on the demon just as she has frequently parentified the teen. When possessed, Bridget says “I don’t like having things inside my tummy - do you Aunty Beth?” alluding to Beth’s pregnancy to Danny and Kassie who are also in the room, and suggesting that Beth is unhappy with her position. This is compounded when Kass responds to her soothing words with “You’d be a good mom someday Aunty Beth. You know how to lie to kids.” Following the backhanded compliment, Beth holds her stomach while looking at Bridget’s now dead body as if protecting her baby from the horrors she has witnessed through Ellie’s unhappiness as a mother and the fallout from her rage finally overspilling, or conversely, of her pregnancy-induced psychosis as she carries the demon.

 

Much like the shuddering mug, Beth’s fear over the prospect of parenthood reaches boiling point as she confronts Ellie and her reanimated Deadite victims in the hallway, as they chant “no way out” to Beth and Cass while they escape to the elevator which slowly fills with blood with them trapped inside. In the scene where Ellie was first possessed, the elevator itself can be seen to represent a womb that eventually bursts forth with blood, Beth and Kass as they are “birthed” into the apartment’s car park. The rising chanting and rising levels of blood before this can be seen to personify Beth’s fraught situation and her feelings of entrapment as a prospective parent, especially after witnessing Ellie’s demise under the weight of societal and personal expectations as a parent. To face off against Beth and Kass, Ellie finds herself consumed by her identity as a parent, and the smile she has worn since becoming a Deadite fades as the possessed Bridget and Danny force their limbs inside her body to become one giant entity, which they all lose a sense of individuality.

Ellie’s last words to Beth are a final damning prediction of her parenting, telling her “You really do look like mom, and you’re going to fail miserably like her” thus furthering the generational trauma that she has put onto Bridget into her sister. She also once again refers to her as a groupie, reducing her once more to just a title and a sexual object. In response, Beth hacks her sister and children to pieces with a chainsaw as she pushes the gigantic creature into a woodchipper. This can be seen as her destroying the image of monstrous motherhood that she does not want to become, or Beth ultimately rejecting motherhood and choosing not to become a parent as she destroys the toxic family unit and the prospect of continuing the toxic cycle their mother began. Beth becomes a mother figure to Kass, choosing to go back into the garage to save her from her murderous mother and siblings and ride into the sunset with her which could be seen as her coming to terms with her choice to become a parent after others have tried to force their ideals of parenthood upon her. She even corrects Ellie when she says she will consume her soul, responding “Two souls” which suggests she is warming to the idea of becoming a mother on her own terms.

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EVIL DEAD RISE can be seen to champion pro-choice views by offering a varied portrayal of different facets of parenthood, including the aggressive physical and hormonal changes as well as the strain of single parenthood and the dark thoughts some parents experience as they wish to go back to their pre-child life. Ellie ultimately murders two of her children, unburdening herself from the offspring that have led to her life. Deadite Ellie can be seen as a metaphor for maternal mental health and how the pressures of parenthood, particularly unwanted parenthood, can have on a human. Beth faces off against the Deadites and maintains a level head throughout to protect the children but looks the most scared when Kass asks if she’s going to be a mom after Ellie reveals her sister’s pregnancy. Ultimately, Ellie can be seen to represent everything in a mother that Beth does not want to become, and the strength of her as a protagonist and the choices she makes show the importance of women maintaining bodily autonomy and reproductive rights - even without bloodthirsty demons roaming the Earth.

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Rebecca is a freelance entertainment and SEO journalist with by-lines at Metro UK, Digital Spy, FilmHounds Magazine, and The Hollywood News. An avid lover of horror TV and cinema, you can also find her talking about all things sinister and spooky at FANGORIA, Dread Central, Ghouls Magazine, and Moving Pictures Film Club.

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