If you’ve been hanging around here for any length of time, you’ve surely heard me opine “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.” And while that’s definitely true, leave it to Sam Raimi to make the movie that’s the exception to the rule. His latest film, Drag Me to Hell, is not only a film made just “like they used to,” it’s hands down the best horror film of the year and probably the most satisfying PG-13 scary movie ever made.
The film’s setup in simple: Christine (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer with self-esteem issues who is up for a promotion. Encouraged by her boss (David Paymer) to make the tough decisions, she turns down a request from an old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) for a loan extension—probably a big mistake in any type of movie, but in a horror flick? Well, let’s just say Christine lives to regret it. Cursed events transpire and Christine learns she has three days before demons will drag her to hell. Looking for a way to save herself, she finds Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), a store-front seer who has answers and possibly even solutions.
Ever since Raimi dragged a bunch of high school buddies into the Tennessee backwoods in 1981 and emerged with The Evil Dead, he’s been growing as a filmmaker. By hopping genres with films such as Darkman, The Quick and the Dead, A Simple Plan, For the Love of the Game and The Gift, not to mention the two Evil Dead sequels, the Spider-Man films and his collaborations with the Coen brothers, Raimi has internalized every aspect of movie making and quietly grown into a master. With Drag Me to Hell, the master has gone back to his roots and decided to make a movie for himself.
Using everything he’s learned in almost three decades of filmmaking, Raimi has rolled up his sleeves and given us a fun, old-fashioned fright flick with all the archetypal elements: jump scares, shadow play, effective sound design, stylish set pieces, frenzied special effects—all presented with Raimi’s screwy sense of humor. A lot of directors can frighten us and many more can make us laugh, but Raimi is the only one that can do both at the same time. Think about that for a second. Most filmmakers use the laughs to counterbalance the scares, but Raimi actually mixes the two emotions together, without diluting either, to cause a wholly separate reaction.
Poor Alison Lohman. No actor since Bruce Campbell has taken as much abuse in a Raimi flick as she does. Short, sharp shocks abound as the demons torture Christine. These torments build in intensity as she and Rham Jas try to free her soul. Of course, any truly classic horror film looks past the surface scares to examine bigger issues, and Drag Me to Hell doesn’t shy away from the important questions: What would you do to save your soul? And if you had to do something unthinkable, could you live with yourself? Raimi’s screenplay, written with his brother Ivan, toys with these ideas but is facile enough to not get in the way of our good time.
Much has been written about the film’s set pieces, especially a hellish fight that takes place in a parking garage. And while that particular scene is amazing, my favorite is a smaller one that takes place during a dinner party. Christine is meeting the disapproving parents of her boyfriend (Justin Long), a stressful event under the best circumstances. Raimi plays the scene realistically, aided by Lohman’s adept performance (watch her reactions, especially as she does the meet-and-greet and chit-chats about her cat). The tension in the scene constricts and relaxes naturally several times before the supernatural butts in, and then all bets are off—brilliant work from all involved.
If you’re a fan of horror, you need to see this flick. If you’re a fan of superior movie-making, you need to see this flick. Drag Me to Hell is the rare film that allows both of those statements to be made. Compared with what’s been coming out of Hollywood lately, there’s no question this is the best horror film of the year. Let’s hope Sam Raimi makes another one like it soon. Apparently, he’s the only man that can.