Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Reviews: DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)

A lot of people have been eagerly awaiting the day when Sam Raimi would leave Spiderman behind and go back to his horror roots. And that day arrived in 2009 when Raimi rolled up his sleeves and got his hands dirty once more with ”Drag Me to Hell” which is, in a way, the spiritual sequel to his “Evil Dead” series (which is getting a reboot in the near future), and a return to full form for the master of supernatural thrills.

The victim of evil forces this time is a young woman, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman). She’s a loan officer at a Los Angeles bank and very close to getting a promotion, if she can prove to her boss (David Paymer) that she's able to make tough decisions. The opportunity for Christine to test her skills walks through the door that very day in the form of Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an old gipsy woman who comes asking for an extension on her mortgage. Christine denies the extention to impress her boss, the old woman starts to beg her not to take her house, Christine calls security and the whole thing ends with Mrs. Ganush publicly humiliated and hungry for revenge. As she leaves work, Christine is attacked in the underground parking lot by a sort of demonic incarnation of the old woman, who lays a curse on her. The curse is one of terrible consequence as Christine finds out from Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), a fortune teller she later consults : the demon Lamia will toy with her for 3 days, and then will drag her to hell where she will suffer eternal torment, unless she can find a way to break the curse.

This is the perfect set up for Raimi to go to town on Christine. The film is relentless in its scares and brutal assaults on the poor girl, in one nightmarish scene after another. The film wasn’t rated R but it still packs quite a punch. Raimi manages to dish out some truly disturbing moments that will make you squirm. These scenes work on the classic cliches of demon attacks, providing scares that seem to come out of nowhere. There are no prolongued moments of peace and quiet in this 99-minute scream-fest. But it’s also done in a tongue-in-cheek style, much like "Evil Dead", so there’s a feeling of relief at times, when the director sneaks in some off-beat humor, like the strange sight of a possessed man dancing in mid-air. Then it gets all spooky again and you don’t feel like laughing anymore.

The effects are really effective and Raimi’s signature camera-work adds a lot of frantic edginess to the action. CGI is sometimes added to the gooey bits, but looks a little too artificial, which diminishes that old-school ”Evil Dead” effect. As for the demon, you never actually see it. It acts as an unseen menace, always finding ways to break Christine and drive her insane, so there’s never any real use for excessively elaborate visual effects.

The story focuses a lot on Christine, so we never get too much insight on the other characters. The most interesting of them is her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), who is unusually supportive of her, even though he doesn’t believe in demons. What does he know, right ? But this is esentially a showdown between the leading lady and the evil spirit, much like “Evil Dead” was about Bruce Campbell facing off with the forces of darkness. It’s not about ensemble work, so don’t expect any solid or notable supporting characters. Alison Lohman does stand up to the challenge of this movie, her character convincingly transformed from an everyday sweet girl to the paranoid victim of a relentless demon. She’s likable, determined and surprisingly resilient. Her boss demanded of her to be tougher and the irony of her character is that after it's all said and done, she’s become capable of pulling off any hellish tasks. Just ask her cat.

“Drag Me to Hell” is a deliciously wicked horror, packed with scares and excitement. If you’ve been a fan of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy, or even the core inspiration provided by “The Exorcist”, or you’re just looking for an infernal thrill ride, this is the film for you.

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