With the Spider-Man films sitting out there like tarted-up, tawdry trophy wives, it's easy to forget how good a filmmaker Sam Raimi really is. If it weren't for the commercial strictures of the comic book movie, mandates which tend to stifle outright creativity, he might still be churning out the quality spine-tinglers. Instead, he's been lost in a sea of sparkle and spectacle, forgetting us fright fans who propped him up and suggested he might sell to a strict Tinseltown demo. Now, he's back crafting the kind of spook shows that made us all fall in love with him in the first place -- and Drag Me to Hell is quite an act of crazed contrition.
Loan Officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) wants the available assistant manager position in her bank. She hopes it will impress the parents of her psychology professor boyfriend Clay Dalton (Justin Long). But when a need for cutthroat tactics causes her to deny a geriatric gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) a third extension on her mortgage, there is literally hell to pay. Seems the old lady places a curse on Christine, guaranteeing that, in three days, a demon will arrive to drag her down to Satan's dominion. Hoping to avoid such a horrible fate, she seeks the aid of psychic Rham Jas (Dileep Rao). He suggests a medium (Adriana Barraza) who had a run in with the same spirit several years before. Unfortunately, it seems Christine's soul is condemned, and nothing can save her. Article continues below
At first, Drag Me to Hell is a tad disconcerting. This is a Raimi we haven't seen in almost 17 years, since Army of Darkness delivered its madcap medieval times. We are so used to the man being part of the Hollywood elite, of delivering mainstream thrillers (A Simple Plan, The Gift) or producing other artists' genre efforts (The Grudge, Boogeyman) that his insane brand of directorial bravado seems slightly surreal at first. But then a kind of mental muscle memory takes over and we witness the fright film rebirth of the man who made the Necronomicon and tree rape a classic creepshow reality. As a result, Drag Me to Hell becomes the horror comedy reminder of who the real macabre master is.
Raimi is clearly having fun here, throwing as much goop and gunk at the screen as his PG-13 rating will allow. But that's not all. As he has shown throughout his entire career, no one understands the music of terror better than Mr. Evil Dead. The sound design utilized is stunning, as unnerving as anything the man has attempted before. Similarly, Raimi really ratchets up the suspense. There are sequences of dread so intense that they guarantee to push you right up to the edge of your already well-worn seat. While it has a few flaws (one too many gamey old lady gags, at least at the beginning), we are clearly in the presence of a cinematic visionary.
While acting is never a major issue for Raimi, Ms. Lohman deserves credit for stepping in when Juno herself, Ellen Page, dropped out due to scheduling issues. She does an amazing job with what is the usually thankless role of supernatural victim. Long is also good as her comic relief boyfriend, though he kind of drops out of the narrative toward the end. New faces like Raver and Rao really leave an impression, and the special effects by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger are first rate. Raimi really enjoys the newfound freedom of CGI. One sickening set-piece involving an anvil will have audiences squirming with gorehound delight.
With its overabundance of energy and kinetic in-your-face style, Drag Me to Hell is the stuff nightmares are made of. For however brief this stay may be, it is nice to have Sam Raimi back doing what he does best -- scaring the bejesus out of people.