CINEMA: Hell And Back


DRAG ME TO HELL (2009, directed by Sam Raimi, 96 minutes, U.S.)

BuskirkByline_REV.jpgBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Seventeen years since the last Evil Dead film, fanboy icon Sam Raimi returns to his goo-oozing roots with the tightly-wound thriller Drag Me To Hell.  The doomed bank officer Christine may be seen living through the worst three days of her life but fans of the manic mayhem with whichRaimi originally found fame will rejoice like a curse has been lifted. In a plot that crackles with contemporary resonance, Allison Lohman plays Christine Brown, a nervously ambitious banker desperate to show her boss that behind her girlish insecurity she has the toughness it takes to be a ruthless loan officer.  To demonstrate, she swallows hard and denies Mrs.Ganush (Lorna Raver), a sweet little lady with Old World manners, that she will not be extending her house loan.  When Christine calls security to remove the pleading old woman, Mrs.Ganush turns into a steely-eyed witch, cursing Christine to be dragged to Hell in three days. This is a scene that has likely been played out across banks nationwide in the last six months, here we get to see the wishes of the foreclosed come true and Christine pays for the indifference of the banking industry, and she pays for it in spades.

Over the next three days we see poor Christine battle the shadowy demons to break the curse, with the help of a store front psychic (nicely under-played byDileep Rao) and her ever-supportive boyfriend (the puppy dog-ish Justin Long).  Although the action is often as punched-up as the giddy slime-spewing zombie fights of Raimi early work, the script (written by Raimi and his brother Ivan) lays down a streamlined Hitchcock-like plot in which the main character’s troubled psyche brings about her fate.  When we meet Ms. Brown she is driving into work while listening to elocution types, sweating over her vowel sounds as she tries to leave her pesky mid-western accent behind.  Later she tears up a picture of herself as a porky farm girl tending the pigs, nervous that her wealthy boyfriend will see it.  It is her earthy past she wishes to escape, a fear made into flesh in the shape of the unsophisticated, heavily-accented Mrs.Ganush.

Raimi falls back on some ancient story ideas that are so old they feel fresh again.  With its supernatural gypsies, spooky seances (a goat gets chained up to the table as the seer begins to make contact) and some late night grave digging,Raimi pilfers situations you might find in many films of the thirties and forties.  Of course he drenches them in the same spewing viscera that seeped from the zombies in his Evil Dead series, making things as gross as a PG-13 rating will allow (which turns out to be pretty gross at that).

In a recent New York Times article, Raimi said this is the first time he has had complete artistic control over a production since the first Evil Dead film in 1981.  Control is the word, as Raimi builds and sustains his premise with the confident assurance of a natural storyteller.  Raimi may have risen to the top of the industry with his success directing the Spiderman series but with Drag Her To Hell he finally succeeds at delivering on the promise of his low budget debut while remaining completely true to his own goofy, movie-loving voice.

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