Friday, June 05, 2009

Kind of a Drag...

Reprinted from my web site, my thoughts on Sam Raimi's return to horror:

Drag Me To Hell , 2009. Directed by Sam Raimi. Allison Lohman, Lorna Raver, Justin Long, David Paymer, Dileep Rao, Adriana Barraza, Reggie Lee.

Synopsis: Bank loan officer Christine Brown is feeling the her head bump against the glass ceiling at her bank. She's up for a promotion to assistant manager, if only she can demonstrate that she's tougher than her rival, Stu, who, though less experienced--Christine is still training him in some elements of the job--has ingratiated himself to her boss. Her boss tells her that she needs to develop a taste for the jugular, she needs to make the really tough decisions. Enter Mrs. Ganush, an elderly gypsy woman who is on the verge of losing her house because medical bills have caused her to get behind on her mortgage. Christine choses Mrs. Ganush as the recipient of her new-found ruthlessness. Bad move. Mrs. Ganush curses Christine and soon a demon is stalking her. That demon will drag her soul to hell in three days if she doesn't find a way to break the spell...

Commentary: Some years ago, a friend of mine observed that both of Sam Raimi's first two Evil Dead movies bore more than a passing resemblance to Robert Wise's The Haunting. True, Raimi added buckets of grue to the basic techniques, but in generaly, he's right. The Evil Dead movies get their most disorienting effects from booming noises on the soundtrack and distorted camera angles and movements. Clearly, then, Raimi had a respect for the classics.

Fast forward twenty some years. Now we have Raimi's long-awaited return to the horror genre, and lo and behold, Raimi has given us another set of reference points to a classic horror movie. This time, it's Jacques Tourneur's Curse of the Demon. Oh, the details differ a little. The set-up may be lifted from Stephen King's Thinner, but its basic narrative structure is the same, as is its thematic pitting of reason against superstition. Christine even spends the last part of the film trying to pass her curse on to someone else, just as Dana Andrews tried to pass on the runes. In keeping with this particular influence, Drag Me To Hell actually doesn't really need the spew and grue of the Evil Dead movies. Raimi knows how to ratchet up the mood and the tension--he turns out to be pretty good at it--and in some ways, the spew that this film DOES include almost seems out of place. Still, Raimi has always been inventive with the gross-out, too, and he doesn't skimp on it here. How this film avoided an "R" rating, I can only guess. It might have been better off with one.

The most surprising thing about this film is that it more or less leaves behind Raimi's penchant for horror comedies. This is a determined and grim movie and what laughs there are are few and far between. Additionally, Raimi has provided us with a protagonist who is seriously flawed. She loses her moral compass repeatedly through the course of the film and does things that put her beyond the pale. She's almost the protagonist in an E. C. Comics vein, one who realizes her mistakes too late and gets everything that's coming to her. There's a certain amount of disconnect between the audience and Christine, which is pretty much deliberate on the part of the filmmakers. They've countered this portrayal a bit by casting cute-as-a-bug Allison Lohman in the lead. Cute aside, this IS a Raimi movie and Raimi loves to torment his protagonists. Christine, like Ash before her, is put through all kinds of hell.

Still and all, Raimi doesn't make deep movies, and this one is no different. What cultural subtext there is in this film is probably an accident (Raimi and his brother, Ivan, wrote the film in the 1990s). This is basically a funhouse ride, and on that count, it works wonderfully. It's also nice to see Raimi reasserting his own cinematic anima after sublimating so thoroughly for the Spider-Man films. And who am I to begrudge these things?

It's a fun movie.

1 comment:

Darius Whiteplume said...

I have to admit to laughing out loud at most of the gore and other liquids that were included. This one reminded me of the original Evil Dead which had less comedy that the re-made Evil Dead 2.

I really liked Lohman. After the cat incident, I said "okey, I don't like her anymore" (vegetarian, sorry), but did come back around. Her being so likeable made the ending that much worse. Good to see an unhappy ending once in a while :-)

My review (of sorts) here.