Hell and back ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hell and back

Drag Me to Hell
My rating:

Yours truly is old enough to remember the golden age of VHS - when video rental stores were everywhere, and a whole new world of (mostly B-grade) movies could be enjoyed in the comfort of one's living room. My dad was and is as much a film aficionado as I am, and back then his favourite genre was horror. And I was a foolhardy kid who just couldn't miss out whenever my dad watched a new video, regardless of whatever movie it was. So I spent many a night huddled behind a sofa cushion next to my dad as we enjoyed such classics as Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, and countless other video nasties.

Thanks Dad, for the psychological scars. They haven't healed.

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) has her eyes on a promotion at the bank where she works as a loan officer, but faces competition from an unctuous co-worker (Reggie Lee). To impress her boss (David Paymer) by "making the hard decisions", she turns down the elderly Mrs. Ganush's (Lorna Raver) plea for a mortgage extension. In revenge, Mrs. Ganush places a gypsy curse on her that subjects her to three days of torment by the demon Lamia, at the end of which she will be literally dragged to hell. And she has only her devoted but skeptical boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) and the mystic Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) to help her.

I admit it - I am a huge, huge chicken. I spent a good third of this movie covering my eyes, finding the best way to position my fingers so as to reveal just enough of the screen to see what's happening, but not too much in case I see something scary. This is an embarrassing thing for a grown man (who calls himself a film critic) to admit, but what's even more shameful to me is that I have always been like this, and somehow I forgot - and blissfully marked this as my next movie to review. That makes two torturous movie-going experiences in a row, in entirely different ways. Blog, how I suffer for thee.

So I'm afraid my rating isn't entirely fair, because I don't think I can be properly objective about this movie. I chose to give it 2-and-a-half stars simply because it's an average score. Sorry, gentle readers. I am the fail.

I can tell you this though: this movie is as much comedy as it is horror. It'll take you a while to realize this, but the scary scenes are so over-the-top in their sheer gross-outery that you may find yourself stifling a laugh. Don't; feel free to let it out. Director Sam Raimi definitely wants you to, which you'll know if you've watched his Evil Dead trilogy. Fans of that series have been hailing this film as his return to that same brand of horror-comedy after "going soft" with the Spider-Man series, and I think they'll be quite satisfied with the scares.

I don't know if they'd be too keen on the plot though, especially a final twist that's so transparent it renders much of the last 20 minutes an exercise in waiting for the other shoe to drop. Also, there's an exorcism scene that really feels like the climax, but isn't - that's some odd pacing there.

There's something of a morality play going on in this story too, in which Christine basically brings the curse on herself by being callous to a poor old lady. Yet I'm not sure if she entirely deserves what happens to her - at one point, she has an opportunity to do something truly heinous, but consciously chooses not to. Maybe this is because of Alison Lohman's performance - she radiates wholesomeness and innocence, and I think a little more edge to the character might've made the story's resolution more satisfying. I certainly felt for Christine, since the movie seems to delight in treating her as its whipping girl. She gets beaten up, thrown around, scared shitless, humiliated in front of her co-workers and her boyfriend's parents, and mud is the least nasty thing she gets covered in.

However, all this is done in good fun - as I mentioned, once you realize that it's going for laughs, you'll get into the movie's vibe. But once again, Lohman is the weak point here. What Christine goes through brings to mind the travails of Ash, the hero of the Evil Dead series, as played by Bruce Campbell - sadly, Lohman is no Campbell. Campbell's gonzo performance is a big part of why Raimi's brand of horror-comedy worked in the Evil Dead movies, but Lohman doesn't go far enough over the top. The scary scenes are meant to be funny, but the vibe is a little harder to get into because of her.

I'm afraid this is the last horror movie I'll be reviewing, at least as a cinema release - although I may catch something on DVD and review it. On the big screen however, I simply cannot handle the scares; I revert to my 8-year-old self again. As much as I've listed the things that didn't work in the movie, I can't judge whether the things that did work outweighed them. This is not up to my usual standards of criticism. So no more horror movies for me, for a while - and this means I won't be watching Jangan Pandang Belakang Congkak. Try not to be too disappointed.

Anticipation level: yeah!


TMBF said...

For a much better review, check out Bill Martell's blog (scroll down a bit for it):


McGarmott said...

I was cowering in the cinema too - and I never cower. Actually I hate horror movies - like you I had to see it coz I had to review it. Just my luck, it's the THX screen some more (!!!).

About the final twist - seriously I didn't see it coming, it was a good one. Of all the things that happened in the film that moment was one I'm still thinking about.

As for the pacing, I wouldn't say it was odd, just slightly different from the formulaic three-act structure. And I'd also say it's handled really well, coz the graveyard scene was just as intense. One good thing to be said about Sam Raimi's films is that he keeps the pacing going.

Aku Pembaca Filem said...

i and my wife like this film..4 rating from 5