Opening in theaters Friday, May 29th
Alison Lohman as Christine Brown
Justin Long as Clay Dalton
Lorna Raver as Mrs. Ganush
Dileep Rao as Rham Jas
David Paymer as Mr. Jacks
Adriana Barraza as Shaun San Dena
Directed by Sam Raimi
Two things you need to know before going into Drag Me to Hell, Universal’s summertime horror offering that easily stands strong alongside the big guns gobbling up box office receipts. First, if you’re looking for a Sam Raimi horror film, you’ve got one. Granted, it’s a more polished accomplishment in the realm of terror than his preceding forays, however, make no doubt about it, it carries his stamp. Secondly, this is PG-13 and it works. Abandon any ill will you might have over the rating before you step into the theater. Drag Me to Hell transcends that petty R versus PG-13 argument and stands on its own as a shocking, inventive, loud and evil film counterbalanced with choice Raimi humor. It’s a consistent reminder that his ambition and imagination are as lively as the first time he punished Bruce Campbell in the woods with a horde of malevolent spirits.
I’m sure not coincidentally it’s the spirits Raimi returns to for his first film since the Spider-Man trilogy. And this time the evil force here is called the Lamia, a goat-headed demon that’s stalking Alison Lohman’s Christine Brown. You see, Ms. Brown here made a poor decision at her bank in order to gain some footing on a possible promotion. She denies an elderly woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), a bank loan and ultimately gets a curse put on her (the aforementioned Lamia) by the sweet yet venomous old gypsy. But not before the two go head-to-head later in Christine’s car, a battle royale that asks Raimi to pull out his bag of visual tricks and get creative with the gags (look for an Evil Dead cameo, FYI).
This is just an appetizer to the scorching, playful madness Raimi and his co-writer/brother Ivan have cooked up for Christine, an amiable protagonist played with a finely tuned soft-spoken and timid charm by Lohman. Raimi runs this sweet, insecure gal through the gamut as she spends the rest of the film attempting to shake the curse that will jettison her to hell in three days. During this time the Lamia demonstrates his strength, tormenting her with visions and downright fierce physical abuse. This, naturally, intrudes on Christine’s life and her relationship with Clay (Justin Long). With the clock ticking, she turns to Rham Jas, a spiritual advisor whose advice can sometimes lead Christine astray leading to some uproarious, black-hearted shenanigans.
On the dance floor of cinema, Drag Me to Hell is the dude everyone gathers around to watch in awe. Vigorous. Unique. Every move is precisely executed and there’s no sign of faltering. Excessive? Maybe. Raimi, in all his unfettered glory here, falls victim twice to moments that are so zany, and in one instance grotesque, they don’t quite fit even in this cavalcade of carnage. Still, this is sensory overload structured with such skill and heart that it’s easy to dismiss any minute flaws. The jolts come hard, the laughs come easy and horror fans won’t help but grin from ear to ear when Raimi takes a turn into “Evil Dead possession” territory. There’s no skimping on the bodily fluids either as Christine finds herself being spewed on or, in one instance, doing the spewing.
Raimi masterfully juggles the film’s tone from minute to minute. He knows just when to last out with an outrageous beat then pull back for a sequence of serious gravity. And kudos to his cast, from Lohman to Dileep Rao as Jas, for rolling with this varied assault of funhouse antics and delivering sincere performances. On a technical level, the film excels with Peter Deming, another Evil Dead II veteran, as the director of photography, here assisting in that foreboding sense of dread Raimi does so well with his ever-creeping camera. There’s top-notch CG and practical FX work on display, too.
Time has been good to Raimi. Drag Me to Hell is the perfect reflection of a director who departed the genre to fine-tune his craft and try on other stories. He’s back now, though, with a matured eye, applying the things he has learned and infusing them with the edge that put him on the map in the first place. Hell, in his hands, ain’t a bad place to be.