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Non-Review Review: Drag Me To Hell

I’m a little torn about this film. On one hand, it’s nice to know that Sam Raimi has more than simply half-a-dozen Spider-Man movies left in him, on the other hand, this feels like it’s what The Evil Dead would look like in the era of CGI. And that’s not necessarily a compliment. At the very least, Raimi immediately reestablishes his creditionals as a unique film maker – I don’t think anyone has a vision quite like him. While he has the same difficulties finding the perfect balance of black comedy and horror that he had while making the Evil Dead trilogy. It doesn’t always work, but it benefits from being new and relatively exciting.

A grave matter...

The storytelling conventions – gypsies, fortune tellers, curses, sacrifice and demons – are all classic ingredients of occult horror. Still, it’s been a while since they’ve been served this spicy. Familiarity is party of the appeal – as is the straightforward nature of the story. The fact that we know what’s happening and where the movie is going means the movie is free to have a bit of fun.

As a shocker, Raimi’s talents are still there. I’ll admit I jumped a few times. He smartly realises that sometimes there being nothing there can be as scary as hell’s scariest demon. His job has gotten noticeably easier since the advent of CGI – and that’s probably the film’s greatest single weakness. Though Raimi is smart enough to use physical effects when he can, the CGI isn’t particularly impressive – in fact, it looks like something from a SyFy Channel movie-of-the-week. It’s distracting. Raimi sometimes overplays his gross-out hand (there’s only so much fluid that can plausibly come from any orafice), but he’s on cue.

His slapstick works well with dead bodies (for example a recurring joke with a corpse seizing his lead actor’s hair), but it’s odd to see those laws of physics in operation with living and breathing human beings (during a tense fight scene in a garage) – it’s like we’re watchinga Jackie Chan comedy for a few minutes. There’s a wicked sense of humour present throughout the film, which works well sometimes and not-so-well other times. Crucially it helps suppress the critical side of the brain, and helps the viewer get carried along with the often over-the-top antics on screen.

Alison Lohman makes a surprisingly effective lead, proving at once sympathetic yet wonderfully selfish. In a way, she’s like a female Ash, except she doesn’t realise it yet (I suppose that he didn’t realise it either at the start of that film). The film depends on Lohman to sell it, and she gives it socks.

Still, I’m not overly in love with the film. It’s fun and diverting, but cheesiness can only really carry it so far. There are effective scenes in the film that cross the genres than Raimi is trying to work within, but it’s a very delicate balance – perhaps too delicate. At times it seems just too wacky or crazy or out there, but will return to shocking or unsettling ideas almost straight away, leaving the audience with quite a bit of whiplash.

All-in-all, it’s worth a look – and it’s certainly a breath of fresh air in a genre rapidly stagnating – but it certainly isn’t a breakout hit or a high light of Raimi’s filmography. It confirms him as a uniquely talented director who certainly has a vision quite unlike any other mainstream filmmaker working today.

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