After three big-budget (and highly successful) Spider-Man films, director Sam Raimi returns (sort of) to his Evil Dead roots in the horror comedy Drag Me To Hell. It doesn’t quite succeed as horror or comedy (and honestly, the Evil Dead films only got so far, too) but it’s a pretty entertaining piece of work from a director all too willing to please.
The plot of Drag Me to Hell is vaguely similar to Stephen King’s Thinner, except here our lead character is a (mostly) sweet young girl. Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) works as a loan officer at a bank; her boss (David Paymer) is about to pass her over and give a promotion to the new guy, because he can “make the tough decisions.”
So when a tough decision falls into Christine’s lap – an old gypsy woman who has defaulted on her loan a number of times comes asking for another extension before her house is taken away – Christine does what we would expect a loan officer to do.
As does the old gypsy woman (at least, in Hollywood terms) – she places a demonic curse upon Christine, summoning a goat devil that will terrorize the poor girl for the remainder of the film. Justin Long plays Christine’s confused boyfriend, Dileep Rao is a benevolent fortune teller.
Drag Me to Hell moves along just fine, though the plot – in and of itself – never really works as horror or comedy. This is PG-13 horror territory, about as bloodless as it can be, but that doesn’t hold Raimi back from throwing all the gross-out gags he can at us: oozing pus and slime, old lady dentures, rotting corpses, bleeding pastries and more.
We laugh and we’re disgusted at the same time, and the film holds this queasy balance for the duration, always keeping us off guard.
But when it tries to be tense and scary, well, Drag Me to Hell doesn’t really make it (one big exception in the following paragraph). The demon doesn’t play by any rules or follow any logic, and no guidelines are ever really set into place: anything can and will happen, and we’re never quite sure what is going on only in Christine’s head, and what is actually happening.
One thing that absolutely works here is the sound. Raimi seems to have brought a top-of-the-line sound effects editing crew along with him from the Spider-Man pictures, and the result is electrifying: the stingers – you know, those shrieking boo! effects on the soundtrack that cap scenes of high tension – are guaranteed to jolt you out of your seat even (and especially) if you haven’t been paying attention.
Drag Me to Hell features some of the best sound work I’ve heard in a horror film, on at least a par with the US remake of The Ring; be sure to see it in a cinema with a good sound system.
Biggest gripe: the “twist” ending, which is set up four or five times during the course of the movie, and which every viewer will see coming the moment it is set into motion. It’s not a bad ending by any means, and certainly where the movie should have gone – but Raimi should have handled it more subtly, or not presented it as a twist at all.
And that poor kitty…