Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza, Chelcie Ross, Reggie Lee, Molly Cheek, Bojana Novakovic, Kevin Foster
(out of 4)
NOTE: This review is for the UNRATED version of the film.
I’ve always had a hard time accepting the concept of hell. In what I consider a just universe, there would be no eternal punishment for finite mortal sins. And certainly, the power to send somebody to hell for eternity should not rest with mere mortals – can you imagine giving people that kind of influence with demonic forces of the afterlife? Sam Raimi explores this idea in Drag Me To Hell, where a Hungarian gypsy, shamed by a pretty blonde bank loan officer, decides that cursing her to eternal torment is a suitable revenge for denying her that extension on her mortgage. The ultimate lesson here, besides not abandoning your core values to the sin of avarice, is to never piss off a gypsy. (Give them wide berth on the freeway and don’t look at them funny.) A morality tale wrapped up in a campy storyline that seems cribbed straight from EC comcs, Drag Me To Hell is over-the-top, but that’s what I have come to expect from the Sam Raimi behind the Evil Dead films. This flick is a throwback to the kind of mood and inventive film-making that made the “Dead” trilogy so great – a return to form (well, as much as Universal will let him) for a guy whose Spider-Man movies turned him into a Hollywood heavyweight.
Fresh off the farm, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) has a successful doctor boyfriend (Mac-boy Justin Long, updating his know-it-all schtick from Live Free or Die Hard) and a chance to move on up to assistant bank manager – that is, if she can show her boss that she has what it takes to make the tough decisions. Her first test involves denying Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) a third extension of her mortgage. Shamed in front of security and bank customers, Mrs. Ganush, with her false teeth and one fake eyeball attacks Christine in the parking garage in a rather insane drag-out which includes attempting to gum Christine to death. The old crone’s final act is to put the curse of the Lamia on her. After going to a psychic (Dileep Rao), Christine learns that the Lamia is a powerful demon that will torment its victim for three days until revealing itself as a soul-taker, which results in the victim literally being pulled down into hell. And you thought you had a bad workday!
Drag Me To Hell demonstrates its willingness to go the distance by sending a kid to hell before the beginning credits even roll. Once Christine is cursed, Raimi drops her in the grinder – his particular love for the spewing of bodily fluids (and other fluids unidentified) is on display, alongside the rotting of the flesh that comes with old age and death – not to mention a gag involving a pesky fly that sometimes hangs out inside Christine’s stomach (swallowing insects, another effectively disturbing concept). It’s about decay and putrescence, including the spiritual kind, manifested in Christine’s willingness to do anything to escape her fate, which at one point involves knifing her cat to death in an effort to appease the demon (sorry, animal lovers). There’s a sequence later in the film where Christine sits in a cafe, looking over the patrons and trying to decide who deserves to have the curse of hell passed on to them – it’s a revealing moment because at the end of the scene you realize it’s not an evil-with-a-capital-E person being sentenced to damnation, just a confused soul who makes mistakes like everyone else.
Lohman plays the character with the right balance, I think. She isn’t hateful, but she makes the wrong choices because her values are skewed. The character isn’t particularly bright, though – she completely ignores religious solutions (is Raimi trying to make a comment on society’s embrace of psychics over priests?), and a pivotal moment in the battle to save her soul exposes her lack of common sense. (I’ll say no more lest I spoil a plot point). In contrast, Raver plays Mrs. Ganush with equal parts slapstick, pity, and evil. She’s a monster masquerading as a fragile old woman. Sound effects work wonders in this flick, as does Raimi’s trademark camera angles and zooms. A seance in the film that ends with a talking goat and a possessed victim dancing a jig in mid-air breaks no new ground for anybody familiar with Evil Dead, yet I still got a geeky thrill out of it. Drag Me To Hell is disturbing for a movie that plays like a fun-house ride for much of its running time; after we laugh at the gross-outs, the film’s implications are grim, and it goes places that you wouldn’t expect it to go. I think this has less to do with the idea that the material is that shocking (at this point we’ve seen it all), than the fact that modern horror these days is simply unwilling to take risks. Drag Me To Hell isn’t Raimi’s best movie – you can tell it’s still weighed down by big budget Hollywood gloss, and the story is reminiscent of a glorified episode of Tales from the Crypt, but I’ll still take this over a lot of recent horror. Where Raimi is concerned, I say: less stuff like Spiderman, more stuff like Drag Me To Hell.
- Bill Gordon