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Monday, 22 December 2014

REVIEW - DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Music by: Christopher Young
Release date: May 29, 2009


Today, horror festers with far too many uninspired duds. Heartless remakes, superfluous torture porn and monotonous found-footage movies have swept the genre like a plague. Occasionally, you might just find a gem amongst all the tedium. Something that proudly displays a giant middle finger to the face of the offenders and aims to do something better. Drag Me to Hell is just that. Favouring old-school and (somewhat) more restrained scare tactics over the blood-splattered no-holds-barred approach of today, this is Sam Raimi's triumphant return to the horror genre.

Enter unappreciated bank loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman). Her already-rocky life takes a turn for the worse when a not-spooky-at-all-looking old lady known as Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) totters into her workplace and begs her to extend the mortgage for the house that she's been living in for thirty years. Christine refuses, and, not particularly fond of being "shamed", Mrs. Ganush places her under a supernatural curse. As evil forces surround her, Christine finds herself in a fight for survival to break the spell of the curse.


Drag Me to Hell is old-fashioned in the best sense of the word. It piles on typical horror cliches with its evil spirits, curses and haunted houses and its mythos are pretty out there, but it's all done with a wink and is laced with elements of comedy and the tongue-in-cheek approach that made Raimi's own Evil Dead series so successful. These elements occasionally become more obvious - a certain instance involving a possessed goat comes to mind - but generally it's all balanced well. If you're wrought with tension at one moment, there's a pretty good chance you'll be laughing out loud at its sheer looniness the next. Or you might be doing both simultaneously, since this movie revels in bombarding its audience with various bizarre and disgusting gags. But it's never done with truly gruesome tactics, still staying within the boundaries of its PG-13 rating (it's amazing what you can get away with nowadays). Drag Me to Hell may not be the most flat-out terrifying horror movie, but it makes up for it with its tension, thrills and virtuosity.

This is essentially a morality tale, with Christine choosing to deny Mrs. Ganush's request so to not hamper her chances of besting a co-worker and getting a promotion (although whether she actually deserves all the trouble she goes through is up for debate, if not particularly important). She spends the majority of the movie being sweet and amiable, but as the end nears and the more primal instincts kick in, she becomes desperate, determined and haughty, as most classic horror movie heroines are. And she would have to be, because between accidentally spurting huge amounts of blood all over her co-workers and making a fool of herself by shrieking at invisible demons in front of her boyfriend's parents, she goes through a lot. Lohman is fantastic in the role, and brings a level of sincerity to a movie that's often intentionally over-the top (assisted by Christopher Young's haunting yet theatrical score). Justin Long is also great as the audience surrogate and the world's most understanding boyfriend Clay, even if he mostly is just there to flesh out Christine's character. Their relationship proves to be a key element of the story, and they make a very likeable and believable duo (especially as far as horror movie protagonists go).


How much you like Drag Me to Hell may depend on how familiar you are with Raimi's works. It relies on the audience's imagination more than it does on gratuitous blood and gore - although that's not to say there isn't any. While not absolutely necessary, it is best to expect some comedic elements and accept the fact that in this world, the catalyst for action is a woman's eviction being enough to drive her to make a largely innocent girl's life a living hell. There isn't really much meat on the bones of the plot, but this movie proves that any plot can be viable as long as it has strong legs to stand on.


Raimi puts his extensive knowledge and experience to great use here. He knows what the audience wants, and he delivers in a sinister yet accessible package with one hell of an ending. Sure there's some dodgy CGI and a bit of hammy dialogue here and there (as is the case with most Raimi movies when it comes to the latter), and there's no particularly deep message, nor is there any social commentary or groundbreaking innovation. But Drag Me to Hell simply aims to entertain, and in that regard it definitely succeeds. For all the horror buffs out there who were waiting for Raimi to move on from his mainstream success and return home to his grisly roots, you can take your Evil Dead DVDs off repeat now. The guy's still got it.