Friday, October 2, 2009
Drag Me to Hell ***1/2
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza, Reggie Lee
Kevin Foster, Bojana Novakovic
There is a very fine line between horror and comedy. Most times this line is blurred when the horror gives path to unintentional comedy; so what then would you make of a movie that has the purpose of making you laugh after leaving you gasping for air?
That is exactly what Sam Raimi's brilliant "Drag Me to Hell" achieves; it's a combination of dark, gross humor balanced with scream-and-cover-your-eyes frights.
Alison Lohman stars as Christine Brown, a loan officer who aspires to be promoted to assistant manager over her sneaky co-worker Stu (Lee).
When her boss (Paymer) suggests that she might get the job if she can make tough choices she gets a heaven sent opportunity when Sylvia Ganush (a very, very creepy Raver) appears at her desk.
She's an elderly woman seeking a third extension on her mortgage without any real backups; when typical Christine would've seen in her a chance for good Samaritan work, career-oriented Christine however detects an opportunity to show her boss she has real guts.
She denies Sylvia the extension and gets the Lamia curse instead. Ganush who happens to be a gypsy invokes a goat demon that will haunt Christine for three days before coming to take her straight to hell.
The premise won't only make you feel guilty for wishing inhuman evil upon bank employees who screw you in the name of bureaucracy, it also comes as a time appropriate morality tale for such harsh economic times when the value of money has relegated basic human values.
But Raimi has no intentions whatsoever of becoming preachy, instead he takes you on a fair ride of sorts where every thrill has been carefully planned to elicit a specific reaction.
Therefore the film brims with cheap special effects (some of them straight out of the ACME handbook), insanely disgusting moments and a certain vibe that makes you feel you're both in and out of the joke.
Lohman is fantastic as Christine. For one she knows how to scream, run and be thrown around by poltergeist, she also brings to her character a sense of naivete. She's often referred to as a "farm girl", particularly by her boyfriend Clay's (Long who splendidly and subtly supports the leading lady) mother, who sees in her everything she wanted her son to stay away from (the whole thing might as well be a subconscious manifestation of momma, which wouldn't come as a surprise given the Freud references and the fact that the producing studio was home to Hitchcock near the end).
Lohman brings a sense of ambiguity to Christine, since you can't really judge her for trying to have a better life, even when some of her choices are just plain wrong and Marion Crane worthy (a scene with a kitchen knife and a cute little animal will, somehow, make you cringe and burst into uncontrollable laughter).
The young actress completely owns the film; her comedic sense only overshadowed by her scream queen qualities.
"Drag Me To Hell" is also an obvious exercise in film cross-referencing, from the opening credits which evoke William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" while using a vintage studio logo, to the three day curse plot line straight out of "Night of the Demon" Raimi has a blast winking at some of his role models.
This obviously means that some people will be more prone to "getting" the film more than others. Call it double feature snobbery if you like, because the joke is in the fact that the films Raimi pays homage to aren't standarized classics, but cult and camp extravaganzas that probably would only end up playing in drive-ins and will never see the light of DVD.
To see how Raimi revels in the B-movie-ness of "Drag Me to Hell" is enough of a joy. That you willingly go along with him and play his game fully aware of the tricks up his sleeve, is perversely delicious.