Even though I’m practically a professional apologizer, I figured I’d dispense with my usual song and dance and just hop right to it. So let’s hop right to it!
So Drag Me To Hell. The concept is pretty straightforward: ambitious loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is determined to win a promotion at work and, trying to prove to her boss that she can “make the tough decisions” denies an old gypsy woman a third extension on her mortgage. Big mistake! Shamed and outraged, the woman places a curse on Christine – the curse of the Lamia, a powerful demon who will drag her to Hell in three days’ time. Boner kill! Along with her boyfriend, college professor Clay Dalton (Justin Long) (Editor’s note: I know!) and seer Rham Jas, she must find a way to dispel the curse. And that’s it. Drag Me To Hell is not a metaphor for sexual awakening, or a high-concept rumination on American foreign policy (I wish!). Nope, Hell delivers exactly what it sells: outlandish horror-comedy with no pretense toward anything but fun. In a box office crowded with indulgent, over-reaching tripe, that’s sort of awesome.
I’ll be honest: I’ve never been much for horror movies. Or scares in general. (I picked all my Halloween costumes from the “non-threatening” bin, a Ken Griffey Jr. baseball card in 2nd grade the closest I’ve ever come to true terror.) What got me to see Hell, then, was learning that the film is something of a return to form for director Sam Raimi. Before the Spider-Man series (and, presumably, his on-set Hitchcock impersonation), Raimi was apparently the enfant terrible of schlocky horror films. The Evil Dead and its sequels mixed gruesome violence with uncomfortable laughs, creating a distinctive cinematic hybrid. It is said that this was Raimi at his most confident, his most comfortable. Not doing any research myself, I can only assume this to be true. (We are not a good blog.)
What’s clear to ANYONE who goes to the movies is that his Spider-Man 3 was a low point for all parties involved. Having eight villains was never a bright idea, especially when shoehorned in by overbearing producer Avi Arad (Raimi reportedly did not want to include Venom); forcing Peter Parker to emo-strut his way down the streets of Manhattan was also far from informed. Bitch, please! I’d like to believe that Raimi took a long vacation after that one, re-assessing his creative strengths and deciding the only place he truly belonged was in Hell.
(The movie, not the place; as far as directors go, Hell is reserved exclusively for Brett Ratner.)
Everything about this movie feels so assured and easy – like you’re in the most capable hands possible – that it makes you wonder why Raimi ever gave up the genre to begin with. It’s scary when it’s supposed to be, funny when it’s supposed to be. It’s fun! The audience I sat with loved it: laughing and screaming in perfect harmony, totally engaged with every vomit-heavy scene. Did I mention the vomiting? There is so much vomit! And in all kinds of flavors: bugs, blood, regular vomit. (I’d link to a YouTube clip if it were available.) It’s not the most original script ever (some character development is laughable, especially in the Justin Long department) and the vomiting might be too much for some, but the pacing and atmosphere are just right. This is an almost perfectly calibrated movie.
Why isn’t Alison Lohman bigger? Admittedly she’s not the best actress of her generation (that would be Megan Fox) but she plays the “girl next door” role so convincingly it’s impossible not to root for her. She’s sweet and likable and earnest – exactly what you want in a movie that pits your actress against the forces of Hell. Justin Long… I give him a pass. He’s likable, too! Even the decaying gypsy grandmother is barrels of fun, and in so many scenarios:
With a cinder block!
In your bed!
(This movie should do for gypsy grandmothers what Up did for balloon-selling would-be grandfathers.)
Hell‘s greatest strength lies in its ability to not take itself too seriously. It would be easy, given the subject matter, but Raimi’s goal is entertainment and – it’s not a bad word – FUN. Not every movie needs grand thematic aspirations. Sometimes just having a good story, and knowing how to tell it, is exactly enough. “Know thyself,” Socrates taught. “To thine ownself be true,” wrote Shakespeare. “We need more vomit,” said Sam Raimi. Truer words.