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Thursday, May 28, 2009

And what a handbasket!

Sam Raimi's return to horror pays off with giggles and gasps

Posted on Thu, May 28, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Drag Me to Hell
Studio: Universal Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Cast: Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, Alison Lohman, Justin Long, David Paymer
Director: Sam Raimi
WorkNameSort: Drag Me to Hell
Our Rating: 5.00

Sam Raimi has spent the past seven years lending his signature style to the big-bank likes of the Spider-Man trilogy, and it's arguably been twice as long since his technique was indulged by his budget and not the other way around. Thankfully, things have changed, as the man in the suit finally satisfies his horror jones in the key of crowd-pleaser. In the raucous Drag Me to Hell, young loan officer Alison Lohman angles for a promotion by shutting the door on an elderly woman (Lorna Raver), only to find herself cursed and subjected to three straight days of torment before being swallowed up by the netherworld.

Compared to its kindred spirit, Raimi's Evil Dead films, Drag is more interested in violating the idea of a safe haven. Our heroine wards off supernatural threats at home, at work and in her sleep as Raimi (co-writing with brother Ivan) finds new taboos to shatter within the confines of a PG-13 rating. The result may not be terrifying through and through, but it sure is thrilling, in ways expected and less so, as prone to provoking giggles as it is gasps.

Lohman manages to convey a level of vulnerability despite Raimi's hyper-hokey ways. Her Christine is a small-town girl trying to make it in the big city, unwittingly punished for striving toward opportunity. While Raimi puts her through the wringer, it's Lohman who takes us along with her as she veers from cowardice to confidence in the face of obstacles wonderful and weird. Though we're there to see her play the victim, she achieves that subtle distinction between screaming and suffering that so few horror protagonists truly nail. It's an incredible performance in a genre that too often settles for less.

The requisite skeptical boyfriend, Justin Long, is an adequate fit as the comic relief, though he is eventually forced to display more genuine despair in the course of a single shot than his entire career has demanded to date. As the psychic and medium tasked with helping Christine save herself, Dileep Rao and Adriana Barraza, respectively, are believable believers; as the wicked gypsy who just won't quit, Raver elicits about as much pity and induces as many nightmares as a dream-haunting day-mucker-upper could.

Colleagues seem eager to contrast Drag's release against that of Pixar's Up ('Toward the heavens, or down to the depths!â?�). While it's improbable that a grade-B movie ' though spun with grade-A flair ' has much in common with Pixar's latest project, they at least share one common message: Don't fuck with old people.


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