I’ve made my triumphant return to the theater this week thanks to a couple of actually good movies coming out. I’m kind of proud of myself for ignoring the advertising hype machines of summer blockbuster season for the most part and skipping out on X-Men Origins Wolverine and Terminator Salvation. They looked like duds from the start and from what I’ve heard, that seems to be the case. So, y’know, yay me. But anyways, what movies finally got me to get off my lazy butt and get out to that oh so wonderful movie theater. I was hoping it’d be Brothers Bloom but the crapshoot that is Regal Cinemas still doesn’t have it. I’m thinking of making a road trip to the closest theater that is showing it. If you saw Rian Johnson’s previous film Brick, you’d understand. But luckily there are two other movies that came out this weekend that I wouldn’t be ashamed of going to; Disney/Pixar’s Up and Sam Raimi’s triumphant return to horror, Drag Me to Hell. Wanting to avoid the kids that would be going to Up on a weekend, my friends and I decided to check out Drag Me to Hell this weekend.
And man, it did not disappoint. I haven’t had this much fun in a theater for quite some time. In my previous post about horror when I reviewed 1408, I gave a pretty good rundown of why horror just isn’t my bag as a genre. But there was one thing I was missing in that whole write up. The straight up fun of slapstick horror that Sam Raimi does so well. Doing everything from terrifying you to making you laugh and completely grossing you out at the same time, it’s the kind of movie you should see with as big an audience as possible.
Not to say that the movie doesn’t work by itself (it does, completely) but the energy from the room is just electrifying especially when Raimi is working his magic on the audience. This movie is just great, loud fun from top to bottom. Raimi gives you the jump scares and doesn’t let you go until the next quiet moment when he can jump out at you again. And he sustains that initial jump scare with some of the grossest, nausea inducing horror this side of PG-13. The things he is able to accomplish within that rating is breathtaking. I was pretty hesitant walking into a PG-13 horror movie, but Raimi really pushes against the rating and shows there’s a lot more to freaking out the audience than dismembered limbs and gushes of blood (although there is one instance of blood gushing, but it’s not played so much for horror as it is for laughs, or a little bit of both at least).
The film centers on Christine Brown (played by Alison Lohman), a loan officer looking for that big promotion to assistant manager at the bank. The only problem is that she’s too nice and not willing to make the tough decisions. When an old gypsy woman (played by Lorna Raver) comes in looking for another extension for her house, Christine makes the hard decision and turns her down. This, of course, leads the gypsy woman to grant a supernatural curse on her (after a wild, unpredictable fight scene between the two that again makes that perfect balance of comedy and horror) which makes her life a living hell, literally. She has three days to break the curse or she will be dragged down to hell for eternity.
And man, does Raimi have fun putting Lohman through the ringer in this one. Basically putting any disgusting liquid goo on, in, or around her at any given point, knocking the crap out of her, and generally just making her wish she was in hell already, the movie gets a lot of its fun from seeing how far you can push a character who started out so innocent and pure. One, single selfish act and her life is turned into a tailspin of horror.
So much of what’s great about this movie is the balance between horror and comedy, a very hard juggling act keeping the audience scared while giving them some incredibly uncomfortable laughs. At points, it plays like a Looney Tunes cartoon with an anvil falling on one demon and then having a demonically possessed goat and then completely turns itself on its head and scares the hell out of the audience.
There are plenty of points where the slapstick tone could become overbearing and take away from the thrills and chills but it never does thanks to some tight direction, a clever script, and a cast that’s in on the fun. Lorna Raver’s gypsy character could easily slip into caricature and almost does at points with some hideous make up and some extreme character features but her performance keeps it grounded and incredibly creepy.
Justin Long gets the thankless boyfriend role in the movie but does what he can with it. Of course, he has to be the skeptic to the whole thing and this character could’ve very easily been incredibly annoying but Long keeps it away from that and does it fine. Unfortunately, he’s never given much of anything interesting to do but what he is given to do here, he does well.
But the movie, on the whole, hinges on Allison Lohman, a character you must sympathize with at the beginning and then watch fall through a hellish nightmare. The audience has to stay with her throughout and really sympathize with her as a character or this trip through hell would become just that. Lohman brings a niceness to the role that plays sweet but not overbearing at the beginning and just plays it to shreds as the movie goes along.
The further and further she becomes pushed to desperation, the more things she is pushed to that really pushes the audience against her. But the desperation of the character and the way Lohman plays it, makes it work in the film. One thing she does, which I won’t spoil here, in order to get rid of the curse is incredibly heinous and really got some gasps from the audience. It’s one of those things you think movies aren’t supposed to do but the main protagonist of the movie does it here and it’s pretty great in how far it pushes things.
The one thing that really stuck with me about this movie is how loud it is. The movie just booms the speakers of the theater and shakes the room, putting the audience right into the scares. Not only do things just jump out with big, loud music cues and shrieks, but it stays sustained and just gets louder and louder really taking the audience by the shoulder and just squeezing. The sound design of this movie is purely designed to make you piss your pants and keep you shaking in your seats and I applaud them.
A big, loud, and yet incredibly smart and clever horror movie, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. The trailers left something to be desired and lowered my expectations a bit, but the movie is just plain good fun at the movies. It scares, it thrills, it makes you laugh and grosses you out all within a few seconds of each other, and in many instances at exactly the same time. Raimi is master of this sort of thing and you could tell in bits and pieces during the Spider-Man movies that this is the Raimi that was begging to be unleashed. Well, here he is.
Go see it. It’s good. I guess that’s the point I’m trying to get at.