Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Movie Review: Drag Me to Hell

Drag Me to Hell *** ½
Directed by:
Sam Raimi.
Written By: Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi.
Starring: Alison Lohman (Christine Brown), Justin Long (Clay Dalton), Lorna Raver (Mrs. Ganush), Dileep Rao (Rham Jas), David Paymer (Mr. Jacks), Adriana Barraza (Shaun San Dena), Chelcie Ross (Leonard Dalton), Reggie Lee (Stu Rubin), Molly Cheek (Trudy Dalton), Bojana Novakovic (Ilenka Ganush), Kevin Foster (Milos).

Drag Me to Hell is just about a perfect example of its genre. True, it doesn’t really do anything new with the genre, but what it does it does to perfection. Each scene in the movie gradually mounts the tension until by the end we are putty in the movies hands. Director Sam Raimi succeeds in what Alfred Hitchcock loved to do – play the audience like a piano.

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) seems to have a good life. She has a sweet boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long) who she loves, and her career as a loan officer at a bank is going well. It has come down between her and one other employee for a promotion to assistant manager at the bank. The bank manager (David Paymer) only has one concern about Christine – will she be able to make the tough decisions, or is she too much of a softie.

Determined to prove her manager wrong, when the elderly Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) shows up at the bank begging for yet another extension on her mortgage, Christine tells her no. Even when Mrs. Ganush gets down on her hands and knees and begs, Christine does not relent. The bank stands to make a substantial profit by repossessing the house, and her manager is proud of her. Christine will soon regret her decision.

That night as she heads to her car in an underground parking lot, Mrs. Ganush is waiting for her. What follows is the first of a number of pitch perfect horror scenes, as the two women scratch and claw at each other. Mrs. Ganush then takes a button from Christine’s coat and breathes on it before giving it back to her. Soon, she tells Christine, it will be her that comes begging to Mrs. Ganush.

Over the next three days, Christine starts hearing voices and seeing strange things. A medium that she goes to explains what it happening – she has been cursed and at the end of the three days the powerful demon Lama will come and drag her soul to hell. Christine tries desperately to stop this from happening.

Drag Me to Hell is a throwback to the horror movies of the 1960s, after the time period when they were not allowed to show too much blood, but before the slasher genre took over and replaced scares with gore. Not unlike Roman Polanski’s Repulsion or Rosemary’s Baby, the movie is about one woman’s struggle with her own sanity. Alison Lohman, who I have loved in past films like White Oleander, Matchstick Men and Where the Truth Lies, makes the perfect heroine for a movie like this. She is so sweet and innocent, with a wide open face and huge eyes that you are immediately taken in by her and root for her. No need for much set-up (also a Hitchcock trademark), just right into the action. The rest of the cast is effective in their roles, no one more so than Lorna Raver as the creepy, scary Mrs. Ganush, who at first disgusts us with her physical appearance, and then scares the crap out of us with her actions.

Drag Me to Hell is a movie that insists you get on its wavelength from the start, and if you give yourself over to it – like I did – what you will find is a great horror movie. If you fight it, or insist on logic, you probably won’t (this after all is a movie about a goat demon – realism really isn’t its concern). Director Raimi got his start with low budget horror movies, most notably the Evil Dead series, before becoming one of the biggest directors in the world when he made the Spider-Man trilogy – the first two of which were also excellent examples of their genre, the third one being a pile of crap. But Raimi has never really left his horror roots behind – remind the surgery sequence in Spider-Man 2 with Doc Ock – that is a perfect homage to the Warner Brothers horror films of the 1930s. Now for the first time in years, Raimi has returned to the horror genre, and made one of his very best films. Drag Me to Hell may not be high art but in the words of Pauline Kael – “Movies are so rarely great art, that if you cannot enjoy great trash there’s no point in going”. Drag Me to Hell is trash of the highest level.

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