Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Frank Review of "Drag Me To Hell" (2009)

The Short Version? See title, add "...but I don't wanna go."
What Is It? Horror Comedy.
Who Is In It? The Mac guy and other people you hardly know.
Should I See It? Yes.

Imagine a PG-13 remake of The Evil Dead. Once you've stopped vomiting, let me explain that isn't inherently a bad thing, especially when you've got the same director working in top form with a superior budget (after earning his keep with all those Spider-Man movies.) Also, remember that we've come a long way from 1987, when things like a girl accidentally swallowing a rotting projectile eyeball forced Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn to be released unrated rather than receive an "X" from the MPAA. Today, the exact same gag passed just under an "R" rating, and it isn't alone in the gore and gross-out departments. Let's just say there's a reason I assigned you vomiting as a reaction to this flick. What is lost in the near thirty years since the first Evil Dead is nudity, rape by tree, Bruce Campbell, severe mutilation, and the disturbingly gloriously stop-motion. What is gained includes a pretty young thing in the lead, a greater emphasis on character and comedy, way more daylight and cultural diversity, CGI, and gallons of fluids with greater viscosity than blood. Objectively, Drag is a better film than the first Dead, but all in all, still a lighthearted retread.

Alison Lohman plays the reformed redneck loan officer who makes the mistake of turning down a third mortgage extension on the home of the pissiest gypsy bitch in screen history, all in hopes of landing an assistant manager position at the bank. Her ambition earns a violent stalker, first in the form of the gypsy, then a demonic lamia intent on escorting her directly to Hell after three days of sadistic "grace" on Earth. Lohman does a fine job of straddling the line between sweet-natured country girl and career woman, making her a perfect identification heroine for the ladies in the audience. Ellen Page of Juno fame was originally given the part, but it was a boon that outside issues rendered her unavailable. Lohman lends her character a much needed vulnerability to smooth out the character's more aggressive plays and retain audience sympathy.

Justin Long overcomes the usual trap of portraying the disbelieving but supportive boyfriend by not sleepwalking, as most actors would, and just damned well playing the shit out of a part that's obviously slight on paper. Lorna Raver is an unholy force of nature as the gypsy. Dileep Rao is fun as a helpful psychic who likes to see to it the coin reaches his purse.

Once everything is set up, the movie coasts from one episodic scenario after another, thumbing through the horror movie rolodex to pull everyone's number to elicit squirms, yelps, and starts. There's an over reliance on loud noises and jump scares, but at least Raimi winks at the audience, acknowledging their awareness of the troupes and daring them not to be impacted regardless. There's nothing at all deep about Drag Me To Hell, but it showcases a capable protagonist and rarely insults the audiences' intelligence, which is commendable in this genre. In fact, its likely that you may for once go through a screening of one of these things without second-guessing the players, since everyone typically does what you yourself would consider under the circumstances. Aside from younger or less intestinally fortified viewers, this is a respectable horror flick that can be viewed by the whole family as a, dare I speak it, "thrill ride."

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