Review: Drag Me to Hell (2009)
I didn't go into Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell with any expectations at all. I had seen the preview once and it didn't particularly stick out in my mind for any reason, but I was game to see what Raimi was up to during his Spider-Man hiatus. I'm sort of an Evil Dead fan, but A Simple Plan is even better.
Drag Me to Hell is an EC Comics-esque silly morality tale horror thrill ride, and it works well on that level. It doesn't try to mean much or even surprise much, except with its pretty effective make-you-jump moments, some basic suspense and gross-you-out grotesqueness, but it's fun on that level. It has some Hitchcockian trappings which don't add up to much, and an unused Lalo Schifrin theme for The Exorcist which is pretty cool.
The movie tells the story of Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), an L.A. loan officer who grew up as a "fat girl" on a farm somewhere, who has career ambitions and social ambitions in the form of impressing her boyfriend Clay's (Justin Long, the Mac guy) well-to-do family enough to fit in to his life. Unfortunately for her, she sees a chance to win a promotion by denying a mortgage-payment extension for a rather disturbing elderly Hungarian gypsy woman, Mrs. Ganush (the appropriately named Lorna Raver), who is already in arrears and facing foreclosure. It's a close call, Christine has permission to grant an extension, and Mrs. Ganush seems sympathetic at first, closely followed by the first gross-out moments, then begging, cursing, and physical attacks.
The set-up is pretty much like Stephen King's Thinner, but with a much more disgusting gypsy. So we see the curse coming a mile away, but Raimi does have a lot of fun getting there, with some of the yuckiest confrontations between Christine and Mrs. Ganush you're likely to see, or want to see, anywhere. It's over-the-top and revels in it.
Lohman carries the film with her curious, earnest, credulous Christine. She has almost an animatronic quality which lends itself to the film's storyline and effects. She goes nuts good, still always optimistic about overcoming her obstacles however ridiculously evil they become. She's fun to watch.
Other supporting players are good as well. Long as the perfect boyfriend hits all the right notes, Dileep Rao as psychic adviser Rham Jas is persuasive, and Adriana Barraza is riveting as the essentially throwaway medium character of Shaun San Dena. I would love to have seen more and better scenes with her just talking. I also liked Reggie Lee as "Stu Rubin."
If there are criticisms, it's hard to make them stick. The film is not serious and does not pretend to be, so even the overdone set of the séance, which is sort of like a Disney haunted house, isn't really out of place, and lots of the comic relief and overwrought histrionics throughout are harmonious rather than distracting.
I can't say I was disappointed at all, or blown away by its originality. It's solid; it works. One note: If you're an animal lover, especially a cat lover, or if you're going to be offended by some in-depth occult references, you probably wouldn't enjoy it. If you can handle some of what that suggests and realize it's all in good fun, you still might.
So I wouldn't call it a must-see for anybody, even hard-core Raimi fans, but it is a funny, entertaining popcorn movie/thrill ride, if that's what you're looking for. I found it almost refreshing after all the super-serious but essentially dumb girl-in-danger horror movies polluting movie theaters of late.
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