You have no idea how terrified I was last night when I saw Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell. This was the single most intense theatrical experience I've ever had, and I don't foresee it being topped any time soon. Part of it comes from the fact that I'm not a big horror movie guy, and as such don't see a lot of horror movies in theaters. But as I was sitting there, sunken in my seat, I cursed myself for seeing the film - but at the same time loved almost every second of it.
Drag Me To Hell
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
As you all will surely remember from the solid theatrical trailer, Drag Me To Hell centers on Christine Brown (Lohman), a loan officer for a bank who refuses service to a gypsy woman (Raver) and is subsequently cursed. Christine and her cynical boyfriend (Long) must remove the curse within three days or spirits come to literally drag her to hell for eternity, where they will feast on her soul.
The plot is ridiculous and barely makes any sense. Why would this old woman take out her aggression on a loan officer? Why not, I don't know, an old boss who fired her, or any other person who has contributed to her sucky position in life? As long as you can put this logical flaw out of your mind and just allow the movie to wash over you, you'll have a much more enjoyable experience. Remember, this is a Sam Raimi flick: the same guy who once directed a Bruce Campbell movie where he ends up with a chainsaw in place of his hand. While he went on to make the Spider-Man films (number 4 is in development), he started with extremely low budget horror movies like Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, which have since gone on to become cult classics. With this film, you could tell Raimi wanted one more shot at his favorite genre before he gets bogged down with Spidey and its inevitable sequels over the next seven or eight years.
Raimi (who wrote the script with his brother, Ivan) boils down this movie to its absolute basic elements and takes out all the BS that has been so exhaustingly stupid in horror movies over the past decade. With most of those films, it takes a solid half an hour before we really start to feel the suspense and terror building with the protagonists. Here, there is none of that - there's a quick prologue, an introduction to the characters, the gypsy woman is rejected in the bank, and from that point on there is no stopping. There are huge scare moments in 90% of the scenes following. Raimi teases us with long shots that any movie fan can recognize (ex: after turning down the gypsy, Christine goes into the parking garage alone at night. Hmm, wonder what will happen?), but does a great job of alternately rewarding our expectations and blowing them away with something far more outrageous than we would have imagined (talking goats, anyone?). And while 1408, one of my other favorite horror [well, perhaps suspense rather than horror] films from the past few years builds suspense in service of mysterious forces that haunt John Cusack's character, Drag Me To Hell gives the enemy a frightening face in Mrs. Ganush, played wonderfully by TV actress Lorna Raver.
Alison Lohman is convincing in a role originally given to Ellen Page (Juno). She devotes herself to the part and really goes for it, which is refreshing to see even if she didn't quite turn in an Oscar-worthy performance. Justin Long serves his purpose well as the loving boyfriend with the skeptical heart. But this movie isn't about winning awards - it's all about the scares, and Lohman works really well as the character with whom the audience most identifies.
The one complaint I have with the film is the fact that almost every big jump scare moment is accompanied by a THUNDEROUS sound effect that makes it impossible for you NOT to react. [You all know what I mean by "jump scare," right? Where something just comes out of nowhere and everyone screams? Making sure.] Even if you weren't scared at all by the images on the screen, you'd be a corpse yourself if you didn't jump due to the out-of-nowhere burst in volume that Raimi and Co. decided to turn up to 11. That said, I didn't feel the same sense of "being cheated" that I normally feel during these jump scare moments. You knew nearly every time one was coming, but the fun comes in trying to predict exactly when and what would happen, only for my expectations to be subverted every time.
I thought this would be simply a suspense movie, but there were so many gross things involved here that I didn't expect. If I listed them all out for you, some of you would never see this movie, and that would be a shame - so I'll keep them to myself. But suffice to say that if you're grossed out easily, you may want to bring a vomit bag. Also, if you get uncomfortable with the notion of spirits and things of that sort, you may want to skip this one. (But come on people - it's just a movie!) The thing is, for a horror movie to be rated PG-13 like this one, you'd think it'd be rather tame. While I was in the theater, I could have sworn it was riding that hard line between PG-13 and R, but after I got out and started playing the scenes back in my head, I think the MPAA made the right call on the rating here. Nothing realistically gruesome happened, and it was all about the build-up to those moments anyway; if you isolated all the "scary stuff" into one clip, it wouldn't be that bad.
The ending? Oh, the ending - totally awesome. I wouldn't dare give it away, but it's the only ending I would have been happy with and they didn't let me down. If you're a horror buff or just want a good scare, this is definitely the movie for you. Until next time...