(Drag Me to Hell opens wide this Friday, May 29)
"You said I would get a free checking account if I refinanced my mortgage!"...
As if the economy and housing market weren't already frightening enough, along comes Drag Me to Hell, a wickedly rendered depiction of what could happen if we lowly bank customers sought vengeance on the hand-wringing loan officers who have lured us into this mess. Of course, brothers and co-writers Ivan and Sam Raimi didn't have the mortgage-anchored recession in mind when they wrote this film in the early 90's, but it's still an ironically amusing set-up to their new horror comedy.
Comedy being the operative word, because I'm not sure why the advance word on this was that it lacked laughs. They come in spades, and the frustrating thing is that the Raimis make it look so easy - why can't others get this formula down? A bare-bones story (young loan officer tries to escape a demonic curse unleashed on her by the old woman whose loan extension she denied) featuring sassy dialogue, goofy gags and responsibly restrained special effects. Sam Raimi must be used to a massive production budget from his work on the Spider-Man trilogy, and it's nice that he avoided the temptation to over-CGI the stunts here. While there's only so many times an old lady's shrieking face can actually spook you, it's such a confident production that you can forgive some repetition from a director having fun at the top of his form.
Not quite as impressive are a few typical annoyances (the climactic finale is ruined by an easy tell, and again we have twenty-somethings with a million-dollar view of downtown L.A. from their Echo Park bedroom window), and some blah acting from Alison Lohman and Justin Long. The Raimis probably just followed horror film dogma to make the female character the protagonist, but I almost think Long might have added more spark to the role if he'd been cursed instead, similar to his jumpy breakout role in Jeepers Creepers. In any event, Lohman is essentially just on screen to receive nasty punishments and cue the audience on when to scream, so you can't fault her for not filling out an already empty character.
In the end, Drag Me to Hell succeeded for me mostly because I didn't feel like Sam Raimi was trying to brutalize me with graphic torture, gore and violence. While other directors appear to get some sinister satisfaction from their unnecessary attempts to send us a "message", Raimi understands that horror, in its most marketable (see: PG-13) form, should simply be a rousing ride for the audience. Drag Me to Hell is just that - a refreshingly boisterous, nostalgically freaky flick, like the haunted house tours at your local amusement park that left you giggling as you gripped your friend's arm in giddy terror. Yes, thankfully and despite a disturbing rise in bloodlust from movie-goers over the past decade, Raimi has bucked the trend and delivered chills and thrills instead of kills and drills.