Christine (Alison Lohman, "White Oleander," "Matchstick Men"), a loan officer at a bank, is one of two strong candidates up for a promotion. She's warned by her boss that he is looking for someone who can make the tough decisions, so when Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver, "Freeway"), an old gypsy fallen behind on her mortgage begs for another extension, Christine goes against her better instincts, her eyes on the prize. It proves the worst decision of her life in Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell."
I miss the days when Bruce Campbell used to star in Sam Raimi films instead of cameo in them. Well, I didn't spot Bruce in Raimi's latest but it is an unmitigated blast! More "Evil Dead 2" than "Evil Dead," cowriter (with brother Ivan)/director Sam Raimi (the "Spider-Man" trilogy) returns to his roots with a vengeance, giving his gypsy curse/exorcism horror the kind of over-the-top, almost operatic feel that hasn't graced genre screens in decades. Let the cheese run thick and the thrills kick!
Christine is under stress on multiple fronts. Not only is sycophantic new guy Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End") doing everything to curry favor with bank manager Mr. Jacks (David Paymer, "Mr. Saturday Night," "Redbelt") at her expense if at all possible, but she has yet to meet boyfriend Clay's (Justin Long, "He's Just Not That Into You") wealthy parents and she's overheard mom Trudy (Molly Cheek, "American Pie 2," "A Lot Like Love," channelling "Harold and Maude's" Vivian Pickles) dismiss her as a farm girl he should be getting over in lieu of a real, adult partner.
When Mrs. Ganush appears at Christine's desk, her very appearance illustrates the depth of Christine's natural compassion as she does not flinch from the cracked, stained fingernails, clouded eye and glob of phlegm (there's no such thing as overboard in this film) in the corner of her mouth. Christine consults Mr. Jacks, upset at the thought of removing someone from her home, but is fed the 'tough decision and it's yours' line. When Ganush resorts to begging on her knees, she is astonished to still be denied and security becomes involved. That evening, Christine is attacked in the parking garage and what a battle it is! Ganush takes a beating, but gets Christine's button and delivers the curse of the Lamia. Soon afterwards, Christine is beset by slamming windows and doors, voices and demonic shadows. Clay is concerned, but not convinced, even when palm reader Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) reacts violently to what he sees in Christine's future.
The Raimi brothers keep upping the ante and Christine, a good decent girl at heart, is forced to adjust her moral compass as she fights for her life. For a PG-13 film, Raimi has gotten away with murder in how he puts an adorable kitten in extended jeopardy (the Hang In There Baby poster in Christine's bedroom a double entendre if ever there was one), how far reaching he makes an office nosebleed and the so-extreme-it's-cartoonish anvil in the garage gag. Eyes, noses and especially mouths suffer gross indignities (the ears are left for the hammering soundtrack, which includes an unused number from the original "Exorcist" score). And while I may have seen the ending coming, more or less, I didn't see how it would come, even though the tracks had been very well laid.
The acting serves the piece well, although Long seems like make-do casting. Lohman must maintain sympathy through some bad moments and she does while stage actress Raver gives her all as the banshee from hell. David Paymer's performance provides the push that causes Christine to go against her own judgement - he's like the bank manager as temptation into sin. Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza ("Babel," "Henry Poole Is Here") is compelling in the Father Merrin role as a guilt-ridden medium living in a classic horror house. Production design enhances character and Peter Demming's ("Mulholland Drive") camera combined with Bob Murawski's ("Army of Darkness") editing keeps the audience on edge.
The promotional audience at "Drag Me to Hell" was screaming, hooting, and groaning just as if they were on the proverbial roller coaster ride and while that may be a cliche it is most apt here. Raimi's latest is a sheer blast.
A- (Laura originally rated this film a B+ on the Reeling broadcast less than 24 hours after seeing it, but has decided it was better than that.)
Robin did not see this film.
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