Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Drag Yourself to the Theater

I’m a total sucker for scary movies, but of course I don’t consider many things very scary, hence most horror films disappoint. Drag Me to Hell (directed by Sam Raimi) is not really an exception as it wasn’t particularly frightening, but I wasn’t so much disappointed as amused. This film was all over the place; it was simultaneously contrived and typical of the horror genre, while at the same time funny and almost avant-garde in its kitchy peculiarity. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and instead of trying to stick to the books of what defines a horror film, Raimi has fun weaving disparate elements of horror, comedy and camp together into this devilishly enjoyable offering.

The film stars Alison Lohman who is perfectly cast as Christine Brown – a kind hearted if meek loan officer who hopes to garner a promotion by putting her foot down and refusing a loan to a haggard and hideous gypsy woman (Lorna Raver). After refusing the loan, the woman curses Christine and strange, terrible things begin to happen. She seeks the help of Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), a sexy psychic who tries to aid her in purging the curse before she is literally dragged to hell. Will she succeed? I won’t say, but her experience makes for one bizarre film.

Much of the film relies on moments of contrived shock value as per usual of the horror genre. For example, scenes like the one in which Christine finds herself alone in a darkened parking garage with the grotesquely predatory gypsy rely on typical elements of scary films – dramatic mood music, eerie sound effects, suspenseful editing, and surprising reveals. However, the scene stops being so generic when the old woman loses her false teeth and winds up gumming rather than biting Christine’s face for what can only be described as an inordinate amount of time. Though it might not sound funny, this disgusting scene undercut the formulaic tension of a horror film with disturbingly gross-out humor.

At other times Drag Me to Hell also strays from the prototype of a horror film with absurdly campy scenes like the one in which Christine has dinner with her boyfriend’s parents. Shot in oddly washed out colors which add to the scene’s surreal nature, Raimi makes no pretense at trying to be scary, but instead plays up the film’s macabre, fantastical side with Christine talking to herself, yelling profanities at the dinner table, and even consuming a fly and consequently burping it up. The film also takes on an almost Twin Peaks-esque vibe when a plagued Christine ponders how to escape her curse whilst wandering around an all-night diner filled with an odd assortment of nutty characters worthy of their own film. It’s a scene that has little thematic relevance to the rest of the movie, but nonetheless it fits well into the creepy yet quirky world Raimi has created.

Perhaps my biggest gripe with the film is the unwarranted anomaly that is Justin Long who plays Christine’s boyfriend. I do not just mean to imply that he is out of place and unwanted in only this film, I mean that he is never needed or appropriate in any film ever. What is the point of this guy? He is almost as perversely unnecessary as Shia LaBeouf. Justin (and Shia – though his worthlessness can be saved for another post) is not good looking or charismatic enough to ever play leading or supporting roles, nor interesting or adept enough to be a character actor. He is an extremely limited performer who seems to have no niche at all in the dog-eat-dog world that is Hollywood and frankly I’m shocked that he continues to book roles. If you’re looking to cast the adorable, dependable type (which is what I would peg Justin’s character as in this film) there are a handful – neigh, a few hundred – other actors who fit the bill better than Justin. This is true for any role that Justin has ever landed. I’m baffled and annoyed that his career continues to rise when his parts could go to some much more deserving, struggling actor. Justin is worse than insufferable mediocrities like Jude Law or Hugh Jackman with their tedious blandness; he is a nonentity that I am embarrassed to have taken up this much of my time discussing as he isn’t worth any time at all.

Whatever, apart from Justin, this film is weird, strange fun. Go see it - you'll be in for one hellish good time!

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