Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Dileep Rao, Lorna Raver
IMDB: Drag Me to Hell

Why I wanted to watch it: I like Sam Raimi's work from Army of Darkness to Darkman to the Spider-Man movies. Drag Me to Hell is Raimi's most recent film so of course I wanted to see it, especially since it got good reviews. Plus it helps that I like supernatural horror movies that have some comedy.

Plot Synopsis: A young woman named Christine Brown is a loan officer at a bank and evicts an old lady from her home. The old woman, Mrs. Ganush, places a curse on Christine and she has three days to get rid of it, or else be sent to hell.

The movie starts out with a scene that is a flashback and therefore features many characters that are not in the rest of the movie. I've seen a couple other movies do this (Jumanji) and I don't like that because it puts the events before the characters. However, it worked in Drag Me to Hell  because in the opening scene the medium fails and loses a boy to the evil spirit, the Lamia. This scene not only introduces us to medium and the Lamia, but also raises the stakes from the get go. Will the medium be able to exorcise her figurative and literal(!) demons and save our protagonist, Christine? Christine Brown is played by Alison Lohman, and she looks a lot like Jennifer Jason Leigh in this movie. I felt that the character was well set up with Christine having to compete for the assistant manager's position as well as being criticized by her boyfriend's mother. She is under pressure in her personal and work life to get promoted to assistant manager, so we can sympathize with Christine when she doesn't do all she possibly can to help Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), especially when under different circumstances she would have helped the old lady get a loan isn't of having her evicted like the bank wants. This is critical because if Christine just blew off Mrs. Ganush or didn't care at all that she would lose the house, the whole movie would fall apart as we wouldn't care what would happen to Christine. In Christine we have a likeable but realistic protagonist, which is always a good thing.

Dileep Rao has appeared in only three movies so far: Drag Me to Hell, Avatar and Inception. In this movie he puts in a good performance as the wise fortune teller. He seems poised to become a prolific character actor. Justin Long is usually known for doing comedic roles (I loved his role in Galaxy Quest) so I was a little worried at first, but he's fine here as Christine's concerned boyfriend, Clay. The characters were surprisingly well developed for the horror genre, which often features one dimensional people simply trying to survive and nothing else. I'm still not sure why the old gypsy targeted Christine instead of the head of the bank, but I guess that it is the point of the story. We feel bad that Mrs. Ganush lost her house, but she was a spiteful woman who wanted revenge, whether or not it was completely justified. That is why is she the villain, a vindictive she-bitch! The directing was good and kept the film suspenseful as we know bad things will happen, but don't know how or exactly what will be sent to terrify Christine. A great example of this was the dinner scene in which Christine meets Clay's parents.  Raimi does a great job of "show don't tell." For example, one scene shows Christine reading a book on animal sacrifice given to her by the fortune teller. After a close-up on the book we then cut to a shot of a kitten pawning at her leg! When it comes to the structure of the plot there is a nice "ticking time bomb" of having three days to get rid of the curse, even though I have no idea why or where that number came from. There were some nice twists to keep the viewer guessing and the story never got stale as a result. The movie contains plenty of dark humor such as in the aforementioned dinner scene when Christine stabs a piece of pie that has an eyeball in it and has to play it off in front of her boyfriend's family. My favorite funny part was the possessed goat during the seance. Drag Me to Hell isn't Saw or Hostel but instead is a good old fashioned horror movie with chills and thrills. The movie is PG-13, but I never felt like the film was holding itself back as there was still a lot of blood and some gore. There was more CGI than I would like, but it is not too distracting. I won't give spoilers, but I'll just say the ending was right out of Tales from the Crypt.

I know this is nitpicking, but I'm disappointed Bruce Campbell didn't have a cameo as he often does in Raimi films. The reason for this appears to be that he was busy filming his role as Sam Axe on the popular television series Burn Notice. Its too bad because he could have easily fit in the film as the psychic at the seance or as Clay's father. But don't worry, Sam Raimi's brother Ted has an off-screen cameo during which he can be heard as a doctor. I didn't like Spiderman 3, but thankfully Sam Raimi is back in top form as he returns to the horror genre. Raimi's next movie is a Oz: The Great and Powerful, about how the wizard came to be the ruler of Oz. He was attached to a World of Warcraft movie, but luckily that project appears to have been canceled.
Director Sam Raimi is pictured below:

Trivia: It was great to see the Evil Dead car, a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, make an appearance! The car is in almost every Sam Raimi movie.
Ellen Paige (Juno, Inception) was originally cast in the lead role of Christine but had to drop out because of issues relating to the 2008-2009 Screen Actor's Guild strike.
This isn't exactly trivia but Mrs. Ganush looks like the "she-bitch" from Army of Darkness. Who knows if it was intentional or not, but I'll include the best picture I could find of her from AoD and let you be the judge.

Score: 7/10
Closing Thoughts: I certainly enjoyed this movie as it is a solid horror flick that doesn't take itself too seriously. I am 99.9% sure there won't be an Evil Dead 4, and unless Sam Raimi directs an original horror movie starring Bruce Campbell, this is probably as close as we will ever get. Looking back, 2009 was a really good year for movies. Other than Transformers 2 of course...

The next film I will be watching launched a franchise thanks to its iconic character. The review should be up Thursday or Friday.


  1. "Vindictive She-Bitch!"

    If I can get to yell that at somebody, then I can die knowing that I've lived a full life.

    I, too, REALLY liked this movie. It was surprisingly well-constructed and acted. I was blown away by how much I grew to like Christine. It looks like Sam Raimi remembers one of the most important rules about horror that most filmmakers have forgotten: we have to LIKE the protagonist. I think that the slasher genre started a precedence where they introduced characters who were so annoying that we rooted for them to get killed. But the true heart of terror comes from caring about the people on-screen. We DON'T want them to get killed or hurt.

    That's why I firmly believe that one of the greatest horror films of all time is "Poltergeist." They make us genuinely love that family. When bad things start happening, we feel scared...not just by what's on the screen...we feel scared FOR THEM.

  2. I totally agree about having a likeable protagonist. Although it can work the other way I think it works better when you root for the character to survive.

    I actually haven't seen Poltergeist yet for whatever reason, but I need to see it.

    Glad to hear you liked the movie too and thanks for the comment!