Friday, 19 June 2009

Drag Me To Hell

2009
Dir. Sam Raimi

When loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is ordered by her boss to toughen up if she ever wants to get a promotion, she begrudgingly decides to get assertive: with the wrong person. Mrs Ganush, an elderly gypsy woman, applies for a third extension on her mortgage; Christine turns her down and inadvertently humiliates her. Mrs Ganush places a nasty curse on Christine that will culminate in her being dragged off to hell in three days. Over the next few days Christine’s life is turned inside out and shat all over by demonic forces intent on torturing her before pulling her down to burn in hell for all eternity… Nice. Can she find a way to stop them before its too late?

When Ain’t It Cool News described Drag Me To Hell as a ‘juggernaut’, they really weren’t lying. While not particularly scary, this film is the cinematic equivalent of a dodgem car ride. The jumps and shocks come so thick and fast that quite often you don’t have time to fully recover before the next one comes along and you’ve been reduced to a shuddering, popcorn covered wreck. The scares, while calculated and cheap, still blast off the screen without mercy. Whether it’s with the sudden sharp shocks of abrupt music cues, or simply the swelling of Christopher Young’s atmospheric score to immense and ear-splitting proportions whilst coinciding with clever editing and deceptively unannounced imagery, it never fails to deliver cattle-prod-to-the-face jolts.



Drag Me To Hell has a similar feel to Raimi’s Evil Dead films; it’s darkly comic, yet insanely shocking and filled to the brim with grotesque visuals and macabre playfulness. While at times it has a distinct tongue-in-cheek vibe, everyone still plays it fairly straight, which often results in moments of nervous laughter. The splashy gross factor of Evil Dead is present here too in the many scenes where the gypsy woman spews/barfs/vomits/leaks all manner of disgustingness over Christine; mainly into her screaming mouth. Outrageous, and at times quite atmospheric, its over the top and wickedly humorous entertainment, with just the right amount of juvenile glee so as not to become too disturbing.

The darkly cartoonish violence is highlighted in one scene that features an anvil conveniently suspended above the nasty Mrs Ganush, just crying out to be dropped on her disgusting personage. There is also some morbidly humorous business involving a cute kitten and the need for a sacrifice of appeasement…

The usual Raimi-esque traits are all present and correct: the constantly moving, at times utterly deranged camera work, the yellow 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 that appears in all of his films and a cameo by Ted Raimi. All the while he treads that ever so fine line between comedy and horror so gracefully. Alas, Bruce Campbell is nowhere to be found, but you can’t have everything.



The film does falter slightly towards the end when things become quite predictable. A scene featuring a séance culminates in some creepy Deadite-style possession shenanigans and there is some nasty business in a graveyard that attempts to disguise the inevitable ‘twist’ to come involving a button from a jacket. This however does not sully the enjoyment, or suspense, and in the end it resembles a sort of extended Tales from the Crypt/Twilight Zone morality tale of terror. As Christine, Alison Lohman is sincere, likable and totally convincing throughout. She is initially introduced as a shy, retiring wallflower, unable to stand up for herself and embarrassed by her miserable childhood as a farmer’s daughter. By the film’s close though, she has made the transition to a kick-ass, no-bullshit grrrl, without losing any of the substance that makes her such a fully formed character and so damn likeable. Lohman’s performance is testament to how we are rooting for Christine to survive the horrors invading her life, right up until the inevitable final moment. She is supported by a strong cast including Justin Long as her ever supportive boyfriend. As the horrible old gypsy woman Mrs Ganush, Lorna Raver is suitably deranged.

Drag Me To Hell is a Spiderman-budgeted Evil Dead-like fright-fest, that managed to blast this hardened, rum-filled reviewer out of his own skin more than a few times throughout its running time.

2 comments:

Radiation Cinema! said...

James: just saw this the other night. It is the best movie I've seen in a long time. As you say, everyone plays it straight, and that, I think, is the magic to its success. Raimie’s earlier horror films always felt to me like movies imitating B movies. This is simply old school horror, and works on every level. Raimi really is a 1950s directorial throwback, and this film is destined to make its mark on horror history. -- Mykal

James said...

Thanks for your comments Mykel. I agree - Drag Me To Hell somehow felt like old-school horror, which was nice as it made for a refreshing change on the horror scene as it is today.

Cheers.