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Monday
Jun012009

Drag Me to Hell

Every so often, there's a movie release that gets rave reviews, loved by critics and fans alike that, quite simply, doesn't live up to the hype. Drag Me to Hell is one of those movies. It's been over two decades since the director, Sam Raimi, last bloodied up our screens with the terrific Evil Dead II, and his return to horror is a middling attempt at best, a disappointing mix of cheap jump scares and laughable scenarios.

Alison Lohman plays Christine, a loan officer at a local bank who is dying to land the coveted assistant manager's position over a competing co-worker. After talking to her boss, who tells her that the job requires making "tough decisions," a gypsy named Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) walks in begging for a third extension on her mortgage. Determined to impress her boss by taking some initiative, Christine makes the decision herself that another extension is out of the question. Mrs. Ganush, shamed by Christine in front of the crowded bank, puts a curse on her, which gives her three days until the ground underneath her opens up and she is dragged screaming down to Hell.

It's a rare occurrence these days that we get a good, scary horror movie. It seems that the people producing these movies simply don't understand what makes a movie scary. Instead of relying on ambiance, they tend to resort to jump scares, which are almost never frightening. In a sense, Drag Me to Hell is in horror limbo, using a combination of both, making this one giant mixed bag of mediocrity.

One big problem with the film is its reliance on jump scares, of which are in abundance. The common misconception is that these are scary, but just because I'm flinching in my seat doesn't mean I'm scared. On the contrary, these are merely startling. Place anyone in a quiet place and then create a loud bang and I guarantee you'll get the same reaction. Genuine fright is about the lead up to the scare, not the second or two afterwards.

In all fairness though, while many jump scenes fell flat because of this overused gimmick, some worked tremendously well. There were certain scenes where my heart was pounding prior to the scare, not after it occurred, which is mostly due to the fact that you never knew what was coming. Christine is cursed. Unseen forces attack her, she begins to see things and it only gets worse as time goes on. At any time, something could happen, so some key scenes have you on edge during their entirety, an impressive feat.

However, this movie is indubitably campy, bordering on the edge of absurdity, with laughable moments spread throughout. At one point in the movie, Mrs. Ganush is attacking Christine and her teeth fall out, so she latches her mouth onto Christine's face and starts to gum her to death. Another scene depicts a bloody nose, which outrageously begins to spew all over the place, including on her boss, who asks, "Did it get in my mouth?" I felt like I was watching a spoof movie because that's where these gags should have been. They weren't scary or funny. They were just stupid.

And that is its largest pratfall--its desire to be scary, but humorous and campy at the same time. One scene, you're thoroughly jittered and the next you're wondering where that feeling went. If you intend to be knowingly campy, then do it. If you intend to be legitimately scary, then you can't be campy. It's incredibly hard to effectively mix true terror with humor and few movies have succeeded because if you're laughing, then that consistency of fear that you should be feeling gets swept away.

Drag Me to Hell is stylishly directed by Raimi, who ends the movie on a high note (although you have to be pretty dim to not see it coming) and the acting and effects were just fine, especially for a lower budget film like this, but the majority of it is comprised of cheap jump scares and an inconsistent tone that works to the detriment of its overall quality. It isn't necessarily bad, it's just forgettable, a fate far worse. It's a close call in the end, but I cannot recommend Drag Me to Hell.

Drag Me to Hell receives 2.5/5

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