Paranormal & Supernatural In Review : Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Drag Me To Hell is a film that I enjoyed when it first came out but with so much time having passed since, for the purposes of this review I thought I should re-watch it. And what I found was that I wasn’t enjoying it as much the second time around. And this could be a simple case of a movie not holding up as well for multiple viewings but I tried to mull it over and decide what exactly about it bothered me this time, as opposed to when I first saw it.
And in the end, I think what I can come up with is that this is the kind of movie that is going to depend a lot on what you’re expecting to see as you walk through the door. What style of horror are you expecting and how well does it hold up under those expectations?
Looking at this as a straight horror film, I felt like it came up quite short in the end. And it’s more than just the acting not being great or the cringe-worthy lines of dialog, the likes of, “I beat you, you old bitch” or “That’s the last of my hair you ever get!” For me, it goes down to how the premise of the movie itself is executed, pardon the pun.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I love a good story involving a curse. But in this case, I kind of felt like the movie just goes through the motions of establishing said curse.
The movie opens on a young couple rushing to the aid of a medium. Their son has been marked and made the target for a powerful demon. He has been hearing voices following an incident in which he stole a necklace from a group of gypsies. Always gypsies, right? The parents tried to return the necklace but to no avail. And in the course of the attempted séance, a demon attacks and takes the boy, dooming him to an apparent eternity of suffering.
Right off the bat, I have a problem.
Give me a moment and I’ll come back to explain.
Flash forward some thirty years later and we are with our protagonist, Christine. Christine is a loan officer at a bank who is competing with a sniveling coworker for a promotion and things aren’t looking good for her. On this day, an elderly woman comes to the bank because her home is about to be repossessed. She pleads for leniency, despite already having gotten multiple extensions. Christine goes to her boss who implies pretty strongly that if she hopes for this promotion, she should turn this woman away. But of course it’s her choice.
Christine rejects the woman’s plea for help and in the course of her desperation, she makes somewhat of a scene in the bank, begging on her knees and in the course of a mildly physical confrontation where they kind of get tangled up in each other, Christine calls security, having the woman kicked out. She leaves, scolding Christine for shaming her and I’m pretty sure you can guess where the story goes from there.
My problem is at the point where it seems like these people drop a curse on someone in the blink of an eye. And while I get that the point is to generate sympathy for the characters, it goes so far as to make the gypsies in the movie just seem like unreasonable assholes. Look at something like Stephen King’s Thinner. In this story, you have a main character who is in an equally sympathetic situation but at least there’s the other side of the coin where you realize he could have been responsible for a death. He is being punished for an act that most of us would consider equally horrible. There’s a balance.
In this? A child is dammed to eternal suffering in hell? For stealing a necklace? That they tried to give back? Could Christine have given the woman a break and given her another extension? Sure. But is it really her fault that the loan is so far behind? Should she be cursed to her own eternity in hell for something like this?
The responses seem all out of proportion with the crime. At some point, you would think that the demon these people are calling up would be like, “Hey, could you stop summoning me every time the checkout clerk at Costco is mean to you?”
I know, I’m taking this aspect of the plot too seriously as obviously this is just intended as a mechanism to put the protagonist into a situation of peril. I just thought they could have done a better job making the main character a bit less sympathetic while still preserving the overall tragedy of the notion of a curse.
All of that aside, I do have to acknowledge some of the better parts of the movie and there are some fantastic moments of gross gore in all of its horrific glory. There are any number of scenes involving the main character and dead bodies and fluids expelling that are pure gold for their entertainment value.
And that brings me to the other side of this coin and what I think settles my mind in terms of seeing the reaction to this movie as being so linked with the attitude you have going in.
I mean, who is this that we are talking about, anyway? Sam Raimi has certainly established himself as a name when it comes to epic, splatter-tastic cult horror films. I mean, that’s what he’s known for AFTER consideration of his epic cameo appearance in Spies Like Us. From the opening moments of Drag Me To Hell when the retro logo for Universal crawls onto the screen, I should have been expecting a throwback to a fantastic era of horror when the experience was just as much about calling friends over right before you ordered the pizza and began stacking up the VHS tapes.
These were not high-brow movies, meant to be taken seriously. This isn’t an experience that is necessarily going to leave you enlightened and more mature. None of it is really meant to be taken on an intellectual level.
Looking through that lens allows me to relax a bit and take in the absurdities of the film as just part of the ride.
The moment of the movie where I think it all crystallized for me had to be the goat sequence. If you aren’t familiar, basically the plan that is hatched by the medium that Christine goes to for help is to summon this demon, trap it within the body of a goat and then kill the goat. Sure, nothing could go wrong. Anyway, the moment when the animatronic goat becomes possessed is one of the more hysterical sequences I think I have seen in any kind of a film, be it horror or comedy or whatever else. How can you not love a movie that has the guts to create a scene as over the top as that?
So I guess my overall diagnosis of the film and how I reacted to it is that I think maybe Raimi was hedging his bets a little too much. The film kind of dips its toes into both sides of the fence but doesn’t seem to commit to one or the other. I think this either needed to be a serious horror film or he had to flip all caution into the wind and go totally over the top. A lot of the movie feels like it’s kind of stutter-stepping in that direction without having the conviction to just do it.
What I’m saying is that if we had slapped on a little more cheese, we might be talking about this film, right alongside the likes of The Evil Dead.