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  Drag Me to Hell

Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer

Directed by: Sam Raimi

Produced by: Grant Curtis

Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi

Distributor: Universal Pictures

 
     While many cult-film fanboys argue that Sam Raimiís landmark Evil Dead trilogy is a great example of campy horror moviemaking, Iíve never come to accept it as anything more than deliriously crude. One could use the same terminology to describe why they like it, but to me, indulgence is indulgence no matter what the intent. Thus, I awaited Raimiís anticipated return to the horror genre, Drag Me to Hell, with a greater degree of skepticism than most. At least I wouldnít have to see a vine enter a vagina this time, I thought, given the movieís PG-13 rating. But Drag Me to Hell not only exceeded my expectations, it also allowed me to finally accept Raimiís Evil Dead-following because of the fact that this film wouldnít have been so successful if it werenít for the filmmakerís learning experiences. Itís a total camp spectacle, hilariously over-the-top and occasionally chilling.

     The key conceptual difference between Drag Me to Hell and the Evil Dead films is that the trilogy attempted humor through its over-the-top nature, whereas this new effort has gags that are crafted in isolation as they would be in a comedy. Yes, Raimiís trademark styleócamera-tilts and allóis still at work, but itís so deviously self-aware that one would be hard-pressed to argue Drag Me to Hell doesnít represent a form of Raimi-meta. Thereís a moment in which Justin Longís character suggests that he and his girlfriend escape to a cabin in the woods thatís not only funny in its obvious reference, but in the way it makes the reference. The characterís obliviousness in his suggestion, as accentuated by the sceneís pacing and tone, is genius. In other words, the previous Raimi horror-comedies tried to be funny entirely because of their balls-out, Bruce Campell-fronted approach, but this one digs deeper. At the same time, Drag Me to Hell retains said balls-out quality, and comes across as all the more daring for doing so because itís a big Hollywood production, not an ďanything goesĒ-style indie.

     But this review shouldnít be a put-down on the Evil Dead films because, after all, itís been years since I saw them, and Drag Me to Hell is so fantastic that thereís no reason to focus on the past instead of the present. (Nonetheless, I should mention that Iím all of a sudden excited for Raimiís upcoming return to the Evil Dead series given the assuredness of this film.)

     Drag Me to Hell stars Alison Lohman as Christine Brown, a vulnerable but determined loan officer. Competing for a promotion against up-and-comer Stu (Reggie Lee), she mustnít allow her emotions to sway her business decisions, which can get very personal at times. Christine faces a tough situation when her on-looking boss Mr. Jacks (David Paymer) forces her to decide whether to extend the deadline on 80-year-old Mrs. Ganushís (Lorna Raver) mortgage payment after two prior allowances. Eyeing the empty Assistant Managerís chair across the room, Christine denies Mrs. Ganushís request, which leads the creepy old lady to behave violently and put a curse on Christine. As luck would have it, this curse is very real, and horrible things start happening to the once-hopeful twentysomething. After Mrs. Ganush first brutally assaults her in the parking garageóin hilariously excessive fashion, no lessóChristine seeks the help of roadside psychic and paranormal-handyman Rham Jas (Dileep Rao). Contrary to her otherwise-supportive boyfriend Clayís (Long) initial disbelief that anything supernatural has occurred, Christine has no choice but to search for answers, as she knows her life is in clear and imminent danger.

     Before mentioning all the things Raimi gets right in Drag Me to Hell, I want to single out Alison Lohmanís performance as the best of the year so far. Sheís altogether fearless in this role, which is by turns enormously physical and bottled-up. Even though the 29-year-old actress has been in her fair share of good movies, this is a breakthrough performance if Iíve ever seen one. Lohman brings everything to Christine that one could ask for in a strong female protagonist: meek as the character may seem at first, rough circumstance brings her to fight for herself (literally) with ass-kicking gusto. And, boy, is she something to look at, capturing the sexy vulnerability of an Old Hollywood leading-lady, the charm of an Ď80s horror girl-next-door, and the edge and conviction ofÖ well, Bruce Campbell. (Donít pretend like you donít have a man-crush on Bruce, too.) But as much as Lohman stands out, it should also be noted that Lorna Raver brings to life the scariest elderly character Iíve encountered in a long time and Long works perfectly as the token nice guy.

     But Drag Me to Hell obviously wouldnít be the movie that it is without Raimi at the helm. Clearly having learned a thing or two about the technique of moviemaking after three Spider Man pictures and a couple of other big-budget forays, he takes to the driverís seat of Drag Me to Hell, hits the accelerator, and never lets up. So much of the effectiveness of horror and comedy is about timing and rhythm, and Raimi executes these factors masterfully. He balances the filmís quick pace with impactful suspense-build-ups; makes perfect use of Christopher Youngís in-your-face, stringy score; and freshly and inventively integrates his signatures into the new material, as illustrated above. The fact that the movie is PG-13 and doesnít rely on the shock-value of lewd, needlessly violent images but is nonetheless scary and funny is a testament to Raimiís effective craftsmanship. The writer/director has not only achieved whatís sure to end up the best horror film of 2009, but also one of the best films of the year period.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 6.4.2009

Screened on: the eve of 5.29.2009 at Midnight at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.

 

Drag Me to Hell is rated PG-13 and runs 99 minutes.


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