Hardly a Drag (Drag Me to Hell, 2009)
Twenty some years ago Sam Raimi made an impression on the film world with a low budget horror film called the Evil Dead. Now a cult classic, he turned his skills to the big leagues with some varied success in the Spider-Man franchise. For a long time fans have hoped Sam would re-visit his horror roots as more than a producer.
This year he did, and it was well worth the wait. Drag Me To Hell is a full return to form of films like Evil Dead 2:Dead By Dawn and Army of Darkness. It’s filled with jumps and humor.
Drag Me to Hell is the story of Christine, (Alison Lohman) a young loan officer. She has a boyfriend, a psychology professor named Clay (Justin Long), and is trying to get a promotion to assistant manager at her bank. Christine is, however, nice and sweet. While this makes her appealing to her boyfriend, but her sweetness and honesty is hampering her ability to be the aggressive shark her boss (David Paymer) wants. It doesn’t help that her competition, Stu (Reggie Lee) is an unethical and lying jerk.
When a elderly Hungarian woman, Mrs. Ganush, (Lorna Raver) comes in and begs for an her third extension on her mortgage. Due to illness, she has fallen behind in her payments yet again. Christine’s initial instinct is to help this woman who is clearly in need. When she speaks to her boss, he hints that making the tough decision may be needed here, but leaves the decision in her hands. She has the opportunity to be a good Samaritan but instead denies Mrs. Ganush the extension, recommending she move in with her family. The old woman falls to her knees begging for mercy, and she is dragged out by security.
After this, things start looking up, her boss is impressed with her willingness to be tough, and even looks over a plan she has written up and decided he wants to show corporate. But this is a horror movie! Christine is met by the woman after work, and after a literal knock down and drag out fight (Stapler to the forehead!!!) between the two, the old woman puts a curse on on Christine and promises that someday soon, Christine will be the one begging for help.
Then things really go downhill for Christine. She hears voices, gets attacked by unseen demons and has an extreme nosebleed. Christine and her Boyfriend (a true skeptic and non-believer in a spiritual world) visit psychic Rahm Jas (Dileep Rao). He quickly shows himself to be invaluable, helping Christine understand the nature of the curse and how she might avoid the consequences.
As the situation escalates, Christine starts to take more and more extreme measures to avoid her terrible fate. The trouble is, she has three days to do it, once the third day passes, the demon (called a Lamia) will drag her to hell.
The cast does a good job with making it seem believable, considering how over the top things get. Justin Long was surprising effective as the caring boyfriend. Raver plays Mrs. Ganush at first with great sympathy, she is easy to take pity on, yet she becomes intensely scary after she is humiliated by Christine.
Raimi makes terrific use of shadows and sound to produce scares. The film has much cartoonish grossness that becomes so outrageous, it is hard not to laugh. But the thing here is that it’s okay to laugh. You are not laughing because Raimi is failing-he is succeeding. This is a humorous film, as well as a scary morality play. The effects are a blend of natural make up and CGI, which Raimi has worked to master through the Spider-Man films. And it’s very effective here.
The twists at the end of the film make for a classic horror payoff, and I would not want it to end any other way.
Back when the film hit theaters, I remember a feminist writer stating that the film was anti-woman. That it’s moral was that women should not be assertive and should be punished when they are. This is a woeful misread of the film. First and foremost? You could have had a guy in the lead and told the exact same story. The moral is that you should not be cruel just to achieve more for yourself. Christine had a choice, and yes, doing the right thing may have meant she would not get the promotion. But often in life, doing the right thing…the ethical thing can cost you. Just because I want a success does not mean I should achieve it at the expense of hurting someone in need of help. This film is not anti-business woman. Nor is it anti-woman in general. It is “anti-being a dick.” As I said, you could have easily put a man in the role. I suspect the reason the story is about a woman and not a man is…well, I think horror audiences are quicker to be sympathetic to female leads.
One of the wonderful things is that Lohman is so likable that you dread the notion she might fail and hope she is able to remove the curse.