Monday, May 18, 2009
Drag Me To Hell
Christine Brown gets into an altercation at the bank where she works, with Mrs. Ganush, an old gypsy woman. That night, Mrs. Ganush attacks Christine in the parking lot. She rips a button from Christine's coat and puts a curse on it. Visiting a psychic medium, Christine learns that she is being pursued by the Lamia. According to the legend of the Lamia, it will haunt Christine for three days and ultimately pull her down into the fires of hell.
The haunting isn't subtle. Christine sees clawing hands silhouetted against windows. She is assaulted again and again by the specter of Mrs. Ganush.
Nor is the haunting merely in Christine's head. She isn't imagining it when windows in her house blast into shards. The morning she returns to work, she gets a nosebleed that sprays violently on her desk and co-workers. This isn't one of those scenarios in which the protagonist is merely imagining calamities, bringing about her own demise while tumbling away from shadows. This is really happening to Christine and the Lamia has little concern for how much of a scene it's causing as it attacks.
That isn't the only level on which Drag Me To Hell gets us cringing. This is all taking place as Christine is vying for the Vice Presidency of her bank, and as she's trying to win the respect of her boyfriend's snobby parents. These are the most important things in Christine's life and they're being violently interrupted by the curse. We're left squeamish, as much by watching Christine's hopes dashed as we are by all the blood and nastiness.
What really sells Drag Me To Hell is the utter sincerity of the cast. Everyone really gets on board for this -- another of Raimi's greatest skills is in getting sincere performances out of his actors, something he had going for him as far back as the first Evil Dead film. Here though, he's got the benefit of working with a much higher caliber cast. Alison Lohman's performance is chilled and desperate; Justin Long's devoted and hopeful; Dileep Rao's earnest and resolute (even more impressive as it's his first feature -- he'll also be appearing in James Cameron's Avatar later this year).
I'd been fearing this review for a variety of reasons. One of the less obvious ones is that I don't know if I have much to say about Sam Raimi. I think his movies tend to work instantaneously -- you don't really dig to "get" them. Raimi designs his movies to stimulate reactions. His primary tools are jolt and cringe. You either enjoy these things or you don't.
Curious, I went back and reread all of the Horrorthon reviews for Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, and noticed everyone's reactions were pretty much the same. Praise was given to Raimi's talent for splatter, his in-your-face camera work, his sense of camp fun, as if we each take it completely as a given that these things are awesome and that an entire film can succeed based solely on them.
I agree 100%, and by the way, judging by the sounds of the audience at the premiere of Drag Me to Hell, so did everyone else.
The premiere audience at Grauman's Chinese Theater really made its enthusiasm known. We groaned at the blood sprays and vomit (at one point, an entire cat gets barfed out at our heroine), we were startled by surprise terrors popping out of the corners of the screen. Most of all, we laughed and smiled. This is a really fun ride.