Drag Me to Hell (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Originally, I was going to give this film a three-star rating but the more I think about it, the more I found myself liking/loving it. Every time I think of certain scenes (and there are definitely memorable scenes abound), I can’t help but have this smile on my face. Directed by Sam Raimi (“Spider-man” and “Evil Dead” series), “Drag Me to Hell” has more than enough energy to balance comedy with pure terror; it’s not afraid to look unrealistic and corny at times which I really admired. This film’s story thrives on simplicity: Alison Lohman (“Delirious,” “Matchstick Men,” “White Oleander”) wants to prove herself to her wealthy boyfriend’s (Justin Long) mother that she’s more than just a simple farm girl with a thick Southern accent (which she desperately hides via self-taught voice lessons). She figures that one of the ways to do so is to get a promotion in a bank where she works by impressing her boss (David Paymer) and beating out her enthusiastic–and sometimes ethically corrupt–co-worker (Reggie Lee). So when a gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) asks Lohman for a third extension for her bank loan, Lohman lies to the old lady and tells her that there’s nothing she can do. The gypsy woman kneels and begs to no avail and she decides to cast a curse on Lohman. And what a rollercoaster a curse it is.
What I love about this film is its ability to take risks. Sometimes the horror scenes may look like they’re cheesy or that they should be from a midnight B-movie but one should realize that it’s all purposeful. Raimi wants to communicate to his fans, especially of the “Evil Dead” series, that he’s still got it after all these years and just because he’s directed big-budget Hollywood movies, it doesn’t mean that he’s above using tried-and-true elements like wind and loud noises to scare his audiences. But “Drag Me to Hell” is not just about showing the movement of the wind and deafening loud noises. There’s a certain craft imbedded in those elements (such as perfect comedic or horrific timing) that separates it from other uninspired and recent American horror pictures. Another thing that I loved about this movie is that it’s disgusting but the disgust doesn’t mainly involve blood or guts. You name it, this film has it: bugs being swallowed and regurgitated, animal sacrifices, possession, psychics, destroying corpses, green saliva, mucus, nosebleeds… Listing those scenes brings back a lot of images in my head; as disgusting as they are, I would definitely pay to see them again. Lastly, the thing I liked about this picture was that it took the time to establish its characters. For me to ultimately care for a lead character, I have to know what is at stake–why they actively choose to overcome certain challenges (of course, other than the prospect of death itself). Because sometimes a character does the things she does not for herself but for other people, which adds complexity to the story. In here, I completely bought that Lohman and Long are happy together even though they come from completely different backgrounds. And that relationship is often challenged by the supernatural that’s unfolding before their eyes.
As for the film’s negatives, I do not have much to say because I enjoyed it that much. However, I would have liked to have seen more of Justin Long. I know he can do horror mixed with comedy really well (such as in “Jeepers Creepers) so I thought he was going to be more than just the boyfriend who offers unconditional positive regard (Yes, that term is purposeful because his character is a Psychology professor). Lastly, I think it needed at least three more genuinely scary scenes with no comedy involved. Most of the scenes are a mix of the two genres so it would have been nicer to have alternatives. I also could’ve used more psychology talk; I loved the heated exchange between Long’s character and the fortuneteller (Dileep Rao) regarding theories from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung about science and religion. As a Psychology student (partly), it was that much more enjoyable because I engaged with it. Regardless, these are minor flaws that I really had to think about so that’s a good sign.
“Drag Me to Hell” is not your typical horror movie. For one, it does not involve stupid, sexually-charged teenagers running around a deserted hallway as they try to escape from a serial killer, or cellphones/videotapes that have ghosts in them. It’s about how one decision that we initially thought others would notice and commend us for turns out to be the decision that ultimately shatters our lives. It’s been a really long time since I’ve enjoyed a first-rate PG-13 horror flick so watching this film was truly refreshing. I can only wish that Raimi would make another horrorfest (maybe take inspiration from those comedy-drama intersecting storylines?) because I could feel his passion through the lens. And yes, just in case you’re wondering, the title is very literal.