May 28, 2009

Drag Me To Hell [15]

Dir: Sam Raimi
After three Spider-Man movies in quick succession I began to get the impression, supported by the listless, lifeless, Spider-Man 3, that Sam Raimi was tired and bored, if not of movies altogether then certainly of Spider-Man movies, he clearly needed a break. This is that break, and its done Raimi the power of good.

Drag Me To Hell sees bank loan officer Christine (Alison Lohman) refuse an old woman (Lorna Raver) and extension on her mortgage, largely because she thinks it will help her get a promotion. Later the old woman attacks Christine, and puts the curse of the Lamia on her. For three days Christine will have visions, and on the fourth day the Lamia will come and take her to hell, unless Christine, her boyfriend (Justin Long) and a dimestore psychic (Dileep Rao) can do something about the curse.

This is a horror movie as a rollercoaster, it may not be groundbreaking or especially sophisticated, and its twists and turns may be familiar and even predictable, but once you strap yourself in you are off on a 99 minute thrill ride that will make you scream, jump and laugh in all the right places. The result is, perhaps, Raimi’s most purely fun and enjoyable film since The Evil Dead.

I’ve already had a bit of an argument about Drag Me To Hell, with someone who criticised the acting. First off Alison Lohman makes, as ever, for an appealing lead, making Christine real enough that there’s a character there to identify with and root for, and she throws herself gamely into Raimi’s often icky scare sequences. Justin Long doesn’t have quite enough to do, butt he’s possessed of a down to earth charm that works well enough for the film’s purposes. That’s the thing though, the film isn’t really about performance this isn’t an intense psychological study like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, or even a character driven thriller like Raimi's own A Simple Plan, it’s a rollercoaster called Drag Me To Hell and deep analytical character work would be as out of place in it as kung fu would in a Mike Leigh film. All the performances are broad, but they all fit the tone of the film perfectly.

There are different types of horror films, each of which places its emphasis on different types of scares, and there are a lot of ‘boo’ scares in Drag Me To Hell. I’ve been growing tired of boo movies of late because, be they critically lauded efforts like The Orphanage or lambasted pieces of detritus like The Haunting In Connecticut, they all share one essential problem - I can count the scares in. This, however, is not true of Drag Me To Hell. There are, of course, many sequences in which you know something is going to jump out and scare you, and yet Raimi always, even until the end of the film, manages to spring them just as you don’t expect them - a beat early, a beat late - it’s a very subtle difference, but one that both makes the film and demonstrates Raimi’s mastery of the genre. He clearly understands just exactly how to time his cuts to get the biggest jump out of his audience, me, for once, included. Drag Me To Hell isn’t exactly scary, at least not in the psychologically terrorising way that something like Martyrs is, but it’s the most effective horror film of its kind in an age.

This is very much the Sam Raimi show, the film is shot through with his sensibility, combining those expertly choreographed jumps with moments that provoke longer and louder laughter than most comedies I’ve seen in recent times (“Here kitty kitty”). This mix of tones can be jarring, or mean that the horror undercuts the comedy and vice versa (I’m looking at you, Lesbian Vampire Killers), but Raimi segues so deftly from one to the other, often combining the laugh and the scare, that it feels completely natural. Visually Raimi is firing on all cylinders, his trademark dynamic camerawork and the detail he puts into it (the subtle little CG flies in almost every scene) making this an exciting and involving film to watch. The basics may be well worn, but Drag Me To Hell is a fast, fun, fresh take on them, and watching Sam Raimi reinvigorate himself as a filmmaker is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a cinema this year.

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