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A loan officer ordered to evict an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse, which turns her life into a living hell. Desperate, she turns to a seer to try and save her soul, while evil forces work to push her to a breaking point.
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Conventional horror, like everything else, has its own rules and styles that it tends to follow. It tends to be about how the character's are killed or maimed (or, usually, both) more than it is about how they react to what's happening to them. It wants to make its audience squirm and jump, and not much else.
Long before he got known for his "Spider-Man" films, Sam Raimi made his bones with some of the most unconventional horror films of the slasher era; films that took more inspiration from the Three Stooges than from "Friday the 13th." He started off normally enough with the horror in the woods of the original "Evil Dead" but somewhere about halfway through "Evil Dead II," Raimi and his brother and frequent collaborator Ivan lost their minds. The result was glorious lunacy that, beyond some of Peter Jackson's early gore films, no one else has had the guts to attempt.
It's been a long time since then, but deep down inside you always got the feeling he wanted to get back to that sort of thing, and in "Drag Me to Hell" he has in every conceivable way.
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is the classic LA émigré, a formerly chubby farm girl who's come to the big city to make a new life for herself, and for the most part it's worked out. She's got a decent job as a loan officer at a bank, a decent boyfriend in psychology professor Clay Dalton (Justin Long), a decent house with a decent kitten in it. But decent's not what she's after and to continue her upward mobility she's got to prove to her boss (David Paymer) that she's got what it takes, and unfortunately for her that opportunity comes to her in the form of Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an old gypsy who needs an extension on her mortgage.
But that's all really just a pretense to the good stuff, and when Raimi is involved the good stuff means possessed goats and office supply fights with gypsy women inside cars and general all around madness. About the time ghosts are getting hit in the head with anvils you start to get the sneaking suspicion Raimi isn't taking this very seriously. And thank God for that, because when he does "Drag Me to Hell" tends to bog down in more ordinary attempts at suspense as Christine's nerves slowly come undone.
The old woman curses Christine with the Lamia, an old devil that drives its victims crazy for three days before finally doing away with them. At first she doesn't notice it as much, too caught up with dealing with a weasely, scheming co-worker (Reggie Lee) and the stress of meeting her boyfriend's snobby parents. It's well thought out but somewhat shallow and no where near as entertaining Christine getting attacked by a corpse spewing embalming fluid on her.
By all accounts, one of Raimi's favorite past times is torturing his actors, preparing his films in such as way as to require the utmost amount of torment, and Christine certainly gets her share. Fortunately, Lohman is more than up for it, remaining plucky no matter how much she has to go through, and she has to go through a lot. It's a good thing, too, because the rest of the cast is somewhat mixed, especially Justin Long who just cannot project the kind of gravitas his adult roles require. As John McClane's geeky cohort in "Live Free or Die Hard" he's perfectly believable. As a young upwardly mobile academic… well, I half buy him. But maybe that's because I always think of him as the kid from "Galaxy Quest." Only Dileep Rao's unflappable fortune teller seems a match for the film's tone.
A lot of Raimi's other horror tropes are at play as well, especially having furniture and other parts of the landscape starting move on their own, flapping around amid swirling wind and howling noises. Not to mention characters getting possessed and floating around, talking in funny voices about stealing souls. Really, if you've seen "Evil Dead II" you've seen "Drag Me to Hell" but that's okay. We haven't had an "Evil Dead II" in a while.
It could do with some more insanity. That's usually the only time it really feels alive; it certainly tends to bring out the most imagination. As it is only about half of "Drag Me to Hell" really hits those levels, but that's a lot more than we normally get.