Sam Raimi is a sadist. He has to be. Maybe he doesn’t have a whip collection at home, maybe he doesn’t have his own dungeon room, maybe he’s a pacifist in real life. When he gets behind the camera, he believes in torture. The exquisite pain of making both his main characters and his audience suffer. And that’s why Drag Me to Hell is a whole lot of fun. Because Sam Raimi is a master-class sadist, and he knows how to twist the screws in. My review after the jump.
Alison Lohman stars as Christine Brown, a young bank worker who wants to get to the next level at her job. She sees the chance when Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) comes to her desk to ask for an extension on her loan. Ganush has had some health problems, and she’s obviously old, and somewhat uncouth. Christine is initially sympathetic, but when her boss suggests that taking the old woman’s house might lead to a promotion, Christine denies Mrs. Ganush. Mrs. Ganush then begs, but Christine calls for security. And that night, Mrs. Ganush attacks Christine and puts a curse on her.
Christine is freaked out by this, and visits a seer, Rhas Jas (Dileep Rao), with her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long). Rhas sees something horrible, and Christine comes to realize that she has three days to save her soul from damnation. In those days she will try anything, but her best bet seems to come from performing an exorcism.
There are a couple of really interesting things at play in Sam Raimi’s morality play-cum-horror film Drag Me to Hell, and one of the more fascinating ones is the question of who is right. The best thing about the film is that Raimi toys with your sympathies. Every time Christine seems wronged, there’s a moment or two that put her in a less sympathetic position. And though Mrs. Ganush may be repulsive on site, she is also an elderly woman who did nothing wrong, and Christine’s motivations for hurting her are pure greed, and an argument could be made that Christine directly led to the woman’s death, even if the act she committed was passive aggressive. There are interesting questions of morality bubbling under the surface of the film. Patton Oswalt also mentioned that there’s a reading of the film in which it’s all about Christine’s guilt towards food as she used to be fat, and all her hallucinations are based on going through anorexic hunger pangs. There are things to chew on.
Then there’s Raimi’s malice. Some were concerned when he was working with the constraints of a PG-13, but he’s more interested in grossing you out, than delivering gore. And perhaps gore itself is something of a distraction from armchair clenching. And that’s what Raimi wants to deliver, he wants you to scream, and ooh and ahh every time something sinister is about to happen. To laugh it off, and then sting you again. And though some may find the final reveal obvious, I was sucked in by the craft to not want to put the pieces together. Raimi’s slight of hand isn’t particularly dense, but he makes a film so engaging you might miss what the left hand is doing. And that craftsmanship is all the more impressive in an era where most films feel pasted together. This is the goods. Special credit has to go to Lohman, who is put through the paces and takes a beating, and a vomiting on like a champ. It’s also great to see David Paymer in anything, and here he’s perfect as a nebbish/Bank boss
Universal’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen in the theatrical cut (99 min.) and the unrated director’s cut (99 min.) The director’s cut is shorter by about fifteen seconds, though it also doesn’t have the MPAA card at the end. The differences are mostly in shot selections, though there appears to be slightly more gore in one of the animal sections of the film. The only extras are production diaries, 14 behind the scene pieces (36 min.) highlighting the effects work and the supporting players. Raimi’s presence is minimal, which is odd considering that he’s known for his commentary on the Evil Dead and Spider-Man films. Though perhaps he had nothing to add, or perhaps there will eventually be another edition of the film. Dunno. There’s also some BD-Live based content, and the package comes with a digital copy.