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  1.  (6845.1)

    “Drag Me To Hell” is shit. “Oh, you’re not meant to take it seriously…” I tried not to and it’s still shit. Mainly because the movie itself is not exactly sure… okay, it simply has no idea on how the fuck it wants the viewer to react to it. I watched “Evil Dead”, I liked “Evil Dead” and this film most definitely doesn’t feel like a return to form for Sam Raimi, after directing that… thing whose title I deliberately forget (it has to do with a spider or something and the title ends with “3?, I believe).

    Before I describe what passes as the plot, let me just say that directing a movie is not all about manipulating the viewer. Yes, there’s a lot of that, and veteran directors like Steven Spielberg, or more recent ones like Chan-Wook Park (or Park Chan-Wook, or Wook Chan-Park, or “the guy who directed Oldboy” for simplicity’s sake) are masters of the complicated and very subtle art of meddling with the viewer’s emotions.

    And before you start fuming, YES, I KNOW, except for “Munich”, Steven Spielberg has been a shadow of his former self for the last few years now, unless you’re among the people who could pass off “Indiana Jones 4? as a fun but flawed film rather than the pile of shit with one or two fun bits I thought it was. “The guy who directed Oldboy” is still brilliant as far as I know, though (”as far” meaning I have not yet watched his films after the wonderful “Sympathy For Lady Vengeance”).

    What was I talking ab — yes, manipulating the viewer. You see, the audience are not retards.


    So they’ll see when they’re being manipulated, especially if you’re one of those directors who punctuates romantic scenes by letting the composer play the piano in the most melodramatic possible way while the characters make love verbally. You have to accept that the audience will often notice your intentions and you’ll have to rely on them to cooperate with you. This is where you set the tone of your film, and where I’ll happily set my mind to enjoy it as much as possible.

    “Crank” works so well because it’s crystal-clear from the start that this film is an over-the-top comedy. So is “Shoot-Em-Up” or the absolute bastion of the genre, the magnificent “True Lies”. Kevin Smith is another director who mostly knows how to keep his movies on the same track when necessary: I haven’t watched “Chasing Amy” in some time, but I remember the ending to be an incredibly weird conversation between the main characters that would NEVER have sounded the least bit believable if it wasn’t for the film building up to it carefully. And in the more recent (and very good) “Zack And Miri Make A Porno”, all the romantic, dramatic bits were always counter-balanced by a joke before or afterwards (or even during, like when a character gets a face full of… well, watch the film, it’s funny.) Not that you need to keep a movie on the same track — Quentin Tarantino can swim around several genres on the same movie masterfully — “Kill Bill vol. 2? is full of hilarious moments and still has a heart-breaking scene with a character crying in a bathroom.

    Why am I babbling about this? Because this is the main problem with “Drag Me To Hell” — a complete inability to decide what it wants to be: an impactful, shocking horror film or a dark comedy. It tries to be both, and the result is a mess that left me staring at the screen unsure of how I was supposed to react.

    The plot. Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a toy Sam Raimi plays with for the entire duration of the f — okay, okay, I’ll play along. Christine Brown is a loan officer who, in an attempt to get a promotion, denies an extension on a mortgage to an elderly gipsy woman with a very distorted sense of justice. Angered, the gipsy curses Brown, setting a demon on her who starts to torment her and in three days will — well, guess what he’ll do. Despite being established by the movie as surprisingly agile and strong, the gipsy dies one day later, and Christine must find a way to escape her horrible fate.

    (continued in comments)
  2.  (6845.2)
    As he proved in the fun “Darkman” (and on most of his films), Raimi is an inventive cameraman. This does not mean he’s always a good storyteller, though. The prologue scene where we see a child succumbing to the demon loses a lot of its impact thanks to the ridiculously overdone camera angle that shows the child’s shadow being cast on the exorcist that was supposed to have helped him. Yes, symbolic. But very, very overdone, with the shadow being HUGE and the camera movement being very elaborate. Throughout the movie, Raimi uses several zooms and angles that often fail to have the desired effect, and don’t work as homages either.

    After this prologue, the movie takes on a light, but fairly serious tone, establishing Christine’s character and motivations and the supporting cast efficiently until we get to the confrontation between the gipsy and Christine in a garage, where Raimi violently shifts the film’s tone by introducing one of his memorable villains: a demonic handkerchief.

    In the fight with the gipsy, Raimi not only sacrifices impact for over-the-top comedy, he also goes for some incredibly bad special effects that also fail to work as homages, like the gipsy’s face flying toward the car’s panel. Still, the fight works as a comedy until the gipsy finally curses Christine, which is filmed in an ominous way that kind of denies the film’s tone up to then.

    Christine decides to seek the help of a medium, the one scene in the film that correctly balances humor and drama (respectively, Christine’s boyfriend’s skepticism of the medium and the things the medium has to say). I’d say this is because it is a more natural, low-key humor than in most of the film, where Raimi pretty much lights a neon sign saying “LAUGH” (and, on the next scene, “PISS YOUR PANTS”, and on the scene after that, “LAUGH” again).

    And then, the film falls into repetition. Christine sees visions of the demon and is tormented by it (with Raimi trying to startle the viewer every two seconds), then she tries to keep her every day life under control (with Raimi trying to make the viewer laugh), then she sees more of the demon, then her nose spurts blood all over her boss and I’m lost. When trying to scare, Raimi completely forgets the comedy and vice-versa. The scales are either tipped all the way to one side or all the way to the other, but refuse to stay on just one side, always alternating between them (except Christopher Young’s music, which is constantly concentrated on the horror and is mostly efficient).

    And the really frustrating thing is that “Drag Me To Hell” could have been a great film if it had invested on one of the two genres only, or if it had balanced them properly. But using them both on “blindfire” mode null each other out. When Christine’s nose bleeds all over her boss, I couldn’t laugh because I liked the character and realized what this meant for her — however the scene is clearly filmed for laughs (notice her boss’ deadpan reaction to being showered with blood). And when Christine is being thrown around her bedroom and finally tossed against a closet, I couldn’t feel scared because she had just been flinged around a room and tossed against a closet (which breaks into pieces, by the way) and then just STANDS UP UNHARMED and not the slightest bit dizzy. Fuck, even Wile E. Coyote staggered a bit after being blown up by Acme or something.

    And how am I supposed to jump out of my seat when Raimi pretty much warns me in advance that he’s going to startle me? The movie is so repetitive that by the middle of it I already knew when a scare was coming, not because of the music or the ominous angles, but because of the time it usually took between one scare and the next. And how AM I supposed to be scared by a fucking talking goat, especially when it’s filmed so ridiculously? And what in the name of William Friedkin is up with the dramatic subplot involving the exorcist seen in the prologue? Did this film honestly think it had enough depth to make us care about her troubles and regrets?

    And then we get to the ridiculously predictable ending that pretty much establishes Christine as an UTTER MORON. Here, you should skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie. The scene where Christine drops the envelope with the button not only shows exactly how the movie will end, but really, let’s put ourselves in Christine’s mind at the moment: “Oh, no! I’ve dropped a hugely important piece of paper my life depends on! Let’s just pick the first envelope that resembles it and not even bother to check if it’s the real thing!” UTTER. MORON.

    Alison Lohman does her best, but really, her character is just Raimi’s plaything. She gets so repeatedly screwed over the course of the film it just becomes tiring and quite suspicious, like Raimi based her on one of his ex-girlfriends or something. Justin Long does well for most of the film, but the way he freaks out on the film’s last scene is hugely artificial. Lorna Raver, the gipsy, deserves credit for her quite amazing energy. Dileep Rao, as the medium, is the typical character every horror movie has to explain what is going on.

    Strangely, the last scene of the film (involving a train) — after the twist is “revealed” for the ones who slept through half the film and didn’t figure it out yet — is actually shocking and shows some of the potential this film could have achieved as an actual horror. Instead, Raimi went for a very badly-done hybrid of comedy and horror and, as a result, this film is a shallow “neither”. All it seems to be is an excuse for Raimi to have some fun. Maybe you’ll feel like you’re having fun with him, but I didn’t.
      CommentAuthorJay Kay
    • CommentTimeSep 23rd 2009
    Damn, I was hoping this would be good. :(

    I'll probably give it a few minutes when it comes on HBO, but not going to buy it any time soon.