Perhaps most fondly known for his cult horror comedy Evil Dead franchise of the 80s and 90s, Sam Raimi arose from humble origins to become one of Hollywood’s most successful and bankable directors, steering the Spiderman series to record-breakingly fortuitous heights. His 2009 Drag Me to Hell, produced in the wake of his departure from the superhero franchise, represents an attempt to recapture the original essence of his work.
Following a prologue in which a young boy, apparently cursed after his theft of a gypsy’s necklace, is swallowed into the fiery pits of hell, we meet Christine, a young loan officer. Determined to rise to the rank of assistant manager, she reluctantly refuses a mortgage extension to an elderly woman to prove to her manager that she can make the tough decisions, an action she comes to regret when it becomes evident that she herself has fallen prey to a deadly and eventually fatal curse.
Having spent almost a decade, not to mention well over half a billion dollars, bringing Spiderman to the screen thrice over, it comes as somewhat refreshing to see Raimi return to a smaller-scale, back to basics production style. Stylistically reminiscent of the Evil Dead trilogy on which the director’s name was built, Drag Me to Hell is also in many ways a more conventional horror film, its comedic elements less frequent. A familiar narrative, we witness a young woman fall victim to unfortunate circumstances, the unrelenting fear which manifests in her behavior as a result of which suggesting to those around her that she is beginning to lose her mind. Sadly, this is not the only way in which the film subscribes to the clichés of contemporary horror. On the film’s tone, Raimi commented that he wanted to achieve suspense and tension as well as shocks to make audiences jump. Alas, the film manages neither in any significant way. Any element of mystery present is rapidly pushed aside by the expository dialogue championed by leads Alison Lohman and Justin Long, neither of whom is anything beyond passably believable in their role. Nor, it should be added, does the film manage to elicit shocks of any noteworthiness, anything it manages solely attributable to the deafening musical accompaniments to sudden movements on screen, the staple constituent of today’s “scares”. Loud noises might frighten those whose attention has drifted from the screen, but for those of us actually paying attention it comes as no surprise, quickly becoming a repetitive and irritating factor. The film’s plot offers nothing of substance in terms of fright either, being a deliberately ridiculous story stretched over a pretty underexplored moral of anti-selfishness. Flaws aside, Drag Me to Hell is not without its merits. If there’s one thing Raimi understands, it’s horror comedy. Horrible things can be hilarious, and there is a reasonable share of those here, moments such as that wherein the toothless old woman attempts to bite Christine’s chin invoking a simultaneous reaction of riotous laughter and uncomfortable squirming. It is in these moments that Drag Me to Hell really works, but unfortunately in almost everything else, it just doesn’t.
With Evil Dead II, Raimi essentially overwrote The Evil Dead, realising horror comedy for the superior approach it was. With Drag Me to Hell, the same realization would have gone a long way, the attempt at serious horror essentially falling flat on its face. Though it has some moments of brilliance, its plot is too uninvolving, its methodology too overused, its meaning too superfluous, and its cast too dull to make it anything more than mediocre.
[notification type=”star”]38/100 – It is in the moments invoking a simultaneous reaction of riotous laughter and uncomfortable squirming that Drag Me to Hell really works, but unfortunately in almost everything else, it just doesn’t.[/notification]