Sam Raimi feels more comfortable than he has for years. During the Spider-man series, Raimi had hit a brick wall and seemed almost unwilling to try anything. Spider-man 3, while competent, was ultimately a run of the mill comic book movie from a director who should know better than that. But it’s somewhat understandable. After all, he had not been given the opportunity to do a film he truly was invested in. Thankfully, Drag Me to Hell is such a film. This will certainly be the best horror film of the year.
In Drag Me to Hell, Alison Lohman plays Christine Brown, a bank teller whose boss doesn’t appreciate her and who’s boyfriend’s family does not hold her in high regard. Her boss challenges her to make tougher decisions. With that in mind, she denies a bank loan to the elderly Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver). Ganush puts a curse on on Brown. In three days, Brown will be dragged to hell, unless she can dissuade the demon.
Reading the premise, does this sound like an item many would expect to be a decent movie? Probably not. They have grown complacent with remake of terrible Japanese horror movies and 80s slasher movies. The trailers even tried to pander to this demographic.
This is a shame because it is completley inaccurate. What this film actually is is a sort of hybrid of Raimi’s Evil Dead series. I reviewed the first one here and do admire the series as a whole. It was precisely what Raimi wanted it to be; an offspring of Lovecraft mythos and the Three Stooges. Drag Me to Hell works in the same manner. There are scenes that are quite frightening (a few screams echoed through the theater during an attack by Ganush) and scenes of absolute absurdity. Lohman holding a knife and saying “hear kitty, kitty, kitty” had me laughing harder than most of the comedies I have seen this year. Many filmmakers would have been put off by such an unusual pairing. Not Raimi.
That attitude in today’s industry is admirable. These days, directors scramble to get ratings down to the magical PG-13 rating. Too many films are clearly watered down to rake in every last teenage dollar. Yes, this film was PG-13 as well, but not by design. There was just no real place for gore. Bleeding embalming fluid is apparently not the same as bleeding blood. And its better than adding scenes of violence to merely seem edgy. Frankly, this film is far more horrifying than that Friday the 13th remake.
Even more amazingly, the film manages to be (wait for it) subtle. When was the last time that happened in modern horror? The most frightening item in this whole film is how Brown reacts to her situation. Most films never give their characters a chance to pause, to observe what is happening to them. Brown does. She sobs, she attempts to go and reconcile with the woman she wronged, she tries to ignore it, and she even breaks down completely. The film is, first and foremost, about a woman who is slowly going mad, as any sane person would be expected to do in such a situation.
I will summarize with this. I wrote about the traditional critique “take it for what it is” in an earlier article. My point was that I do take a film for what it is, always. If a film has set the bar low, then it should be easy to accomplsih all of its tasks. Many still fail. Raimi’s plots set expectations low, but he consistently (well, almost consistently) reaches his goal and just keeps going. Drag Me to Hell is really better than it deserves to be. This could have been like any other horror film that made money and is forgotten. But Raimi does not wish to follow this procedure. He wanted to return to what he excelled at (even the Universal logo is period from his start as a filmmaker…a sort of call back to what Romero did in Land of the Dead) and did excels once again.
I can say that right now, this is the second best film playing in theaters (aside from Up!). Why? Because, for once, the filmmakers cared about the audiences.