Synopsis: A loan officer who evicts an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse.
Stars: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza, Chelcie Ross, Reggie Lee, Molly Cheek, Bojana Novakovic
Director: Sam Raimi
Running Length: 99 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: So here we are, the final day of the annual 31 Days to Scare and we’ve covered everything from maniacs to vampires, monsters to animated mystery-solving dogs. We’ve looked at series that took us inside Bly Manor and eight strange tales from Monsterland and caught up with a TV movie from the early ‘70s. They haven’t all been winners, but some have been pleasant surprises. In the end, I wanted to sidestep an older feature and go with a title that I think will stand the test of time and be one that viewers several generations from now will dust off and enjoy. I also wanted to pick something that wasn’t so extreme and too off limits for everyone but would still give fans of the genre a good rattle to keep them happy.
Narrowing down the list for my final title, I kept finding my thoughts drifting to Drag Me to Hell. The 2009 Sam Raimi-directed feature checked off all the requirements to keep it rising to the top of the pile and that’s how I knew it was sort of the perfect movie to wrap up my month-long film fright fest. Seeing it for the first time in theaters was one of those deliriously fun experiences I’ll never forget. I had somehow missed it’s opening weekend and several subsequent weeks after but heard so much good buzz about it from friends and even co-workers that I knew I had to get to the theater post-haste to see if all the good notices were true. Not only did the film live up to its reputation, it became something of a litmus test I used for my own friends…showing it to others over the years has been a real treat and almost as good as seeing it for the first time all over again.
Mild-mannered Christine (Alison Lohman) is tired of not getting ahead at her job as a loan officer at a no-name bank in Los Angeles. Though she has an understanding boyfriend (Justin Long, Tusk) and a supportive boss (David Paymer, Where’d You Go, Bernadette) that tries to coach her, she just can’t be the cutthroat shark that he needs in an upper level employee. That all changes when she musters up the courage to deny a loan to a kindly old lady (Lorna Raver) requesting an extension on her mortgage. Though the older woman begs her to reconsider in an act of desperation, Christine remains firm, impressing her boss. It does not, however, impress the woman who is shamed by this rebuke and returns later that evening to place a gypsy curse on poor Christine. Now, Christine has a demon after her wanting to, you guessed it, drag her to hell within three days’ time, but if she can pass the curse on to someone else, she can be saved. Consulting a mystic (Dileep Rao) who eventually brings her to a psychic (Adriana Barraza, The 33) that has dealt with this evil force before, Christine is put through a number of tests and trials on her way to uncover more information about the origin of the curse, the whereabouts of the old lady, and who might be a good candidate to pawn her fast approaching demon off to before it’s too late.
Director Raimi (Indian Summer) had been working on this film long before he ever got caught up in the web of his Spider-Man trilogy but put it aside to focus on those films. First making a name for himself with his landmark film The Evil Dead (itself a perennial horror classic), Raimi put his name on a number of interesting projects of the same variety before really going the major studio route in the mid ‘90s (like Darkman…remember that?) and onward. While Drag Me to Hell is a slickly produced film released from a big studio (Universal) it doesn’t have blockbuster expectations tacked onto it, it definitely feels more in line with Raimi’s earlier indie work and that’s a very good thing.
From the opening prologue that gives you information and characters from the past that won’t make sense until a good deal later, Raimi’s film (co-written with his brother, Ivan) is in constant motion with plot developments clipping along at a good pace. Crafting each truly terrifying scene like an action set-piece from one of his superhero movies, he has a way of building upon each shriek so that at some point you have to give over to amazed laughter that it’s still going on. Raimi just isn’t content with one scare…I mean, why get a single scream from the audience when you could potentially get half a dozen with six well-timed jolts? It shouldn’t work as well as it does but expect your nerves to be fried when this one is over.
Originally set to star Ellen Page, I think it’s almost better that Lohman stepped in because she’s such a bland actress. Now hold up for a second. Before you get on my case about that statement, let me clarify. Lohman has always held a certain blankness for me and it gets the desired effect for some films but doesn’t work for others. Here, it’s great, because Christine is so awkward and unsure at the beginning that Lohman fits into her soft-spoken essence easily, building her confidence slowly as the movie progresses and Christine has a litany of horrors befall her. There’s also a disgustingly hysterical running gag of her mouth getting filled, mid-scream, with whatever slop, goo, slime, or secretion is being vomited up by the demon or other nasty creature she encounters.
This is just pure fun from beginning to end. It’s funny, it’s clever, it winks so hard at the audience you can almost hear it batting its eyelashes at you, and Raimi isn’t afraid to let viewers bask in some very strange moments along the way. Like the goat. That’s all I’ll say. The goat. Raimi clearly knows his audience and while it isn’t strictly for The Evil Dead gang, it could be something they could watch with their teenage children instead of showing them that more intense film. Drag Me to Hell is strongly recommended not just as a superior horror film but as entertainment at a high level in general. Fire it up on Halloween for your guests…you’ll have a blast.