Movie Review: Drag Me To Hell (2009)
They say you should never go back.
For Sam Raimi, that should go double. Not only has Raimi moved very far along commercially since he was scrabbling around down the back of the sofa to finance the cult classic The Evil Dead, the rest of the world is still recovering from the massive practical joke he played on it in the form of the impressively dreadful Spider-Man 3 (2007).
So why return now? And why, specifically, to the horror genre he first made his name contributing to, when comparisons will immediately be made with what most people still consider to be the director’s masterpiece? Is it simply a comfort zone, or does Raimi actually have something new to say that he couldn’t with his previously meagre budgets?
Drag Me To Hell is a cautionary folk tale done with a modern twist. Children in stories who play with matches or sneak into the houses of bears do not experience happy endings. Likewise, Raimi ostensibly tells us in this film, if you work for a bank and refuse a loan to a mad old gypsy woman in order to beat your rival to a promotion, bad things are likely to happen to you. We could, then, look at Drag Me To Hell as a critique on our modernised, dog-eat-dog culture. Within this culture, of job promotions and loose Christianity and status anxiety, many things have been assimilated. Magic is not one of them; thus, the white middle-class characters, subconsciously recognising the mystics as old memetic entities battling against their own redundancy, instinctively shun spiritual healings and reluctantly admit their worth. Aged forces, both dark and light, represented by the elderly antagonist, permeate into this film at the expense of the modern consciousness, and it is the dilemma of the young couple to decide how much they allow in.
This all sounds pretty interesting. But is it anything that Raimi hasn’t done before? To invoke the inevitable comparison, anyone who does expect an experience on the level of the Evil Dead might be disappointed. It’s not that Drag Me To Hell is massively less funny than its predecessor, nor is it a great deal less frightening (though it is just about beaten in both categories). Certainly it is a worthy thematic successor in that the archetypal students like Ash have been replaced by career-orientated suburbanised twenty-somethings, not making their first forays but rather well on their way to establishing themselves in the adult world. The main issue I have with it is an aesthetic one: like many modern horror films, this suffers from being shot in high definition. Every bit of the budget is put up on screen or into the audio, which can make for quite an unpleasant experience. When someone is thumped in the face by the Lamia, the evil spirit who haunts the film, we are thumped very hard in the eardrums. The Evil Dead looked like hell and benefited from it; this looks very Hollywood and can merely make us physically uncomfortable. Visually it is bright and cheerful, but no more so than B&Q’s wallpaper department and you end up wishing for some 8mm grit to work its way into the mix. It’s also devoid entirely of any of the interesting shots or camerawork that added to Raimi’s previous films.
In addition, it’s predictable. As noted, this is unavoidable with a cautionary tale. However, the twist that brings about the inevitable dramatic conclusion is so obvious and uninspired you wonder whether the screenwriters spent more than five seconds coming up with it.
Was this a worthwhile venture? Yes. Just. It is very funny, and serves as another essay on the director’s assertion that horror and slapstick follow the same basic principles. But it does not bode well for the intended 2011 remake of the film that made Raimi’s career. Nor does it advance Raimi any further as a horror director: he still hovers below or around the likes of Craven rather than challenging Argento-level heavyweights. Weirdly enough, it’s also not quite as funny as Spider-Man 3 can be when it’s watched by a mind in the right frame. I recommend it for anyone wanting to see Raimi get “back on track” or for horror aficionados who agree that no self-respecting horror director can let the nice middle-class suburban couple get away with being nice middle-class suburban couples.
Really Tied the Room Together
Laurence Thompson is an English writer, currently working on the sequel of an award-winning independent film. He is almost certainly drunk.