Review: Drag Me To Hell (2009) (A Return To True Horror?)

drag me to hell(SPOILERS AHEAD)

“Tough decisions”

My faith in Sam Raimi was shattered after Spider-Man 3, and this was his attempt to erase that mistake by starting at the beginning: a comedy-horror. The plot is basic; a woman, Christine Brown, is cursed and she tries to prevent the curse. She has three days to rid herself of this gypsy curse or she’ll be dragged to Hell by a demon called the ‘Lamia.’ Christine is in a two-horse race for the Assistant Manager of a bank. The other horse is a man, Stu Rabin. He’s new to the job but he’s already in the prime position because the Bank Manager is a man. Stu Rubin can “make the tough decisions,” according to the Bank Manager. In a sentence that she’ll later regret, Christine retorts that she’s “perfectly capable of making the tough decisions.” Conveniently, she makes a tough decision in the next five minutes. She denies an old woman an extension on her mortgage payment, thus expelling the gypsy women from her house. Christine is later attacked by her in her car, and the gypsy places a curse on Christine’s coat button.

Then three days pass, each one progressively worse for Christine. She visits a psychic, and follows his advice that pushes her to more tough decisions. Days pass in Raimi’s usual style; disgusting scenes (eyelid stapling, Christine being vomited on), the dolly zoom, jump cuts within jump cuts, and a generous dose of humour. This is Raimi at his most confident. This isn’t the usual modern horror by any means. It does away with the modern horror style of brutal and bloody scenes; you won’t see any arms being hacked off here, or some poor fellow slicing himself open to get out of one of Jigsaw’s traps. The only excessive blood in the film is Christine’s OTT projectile nosebleed. It is ludicrous. The humour in many of the disgusting scenes avoids the nausea that modern day horror flicks provide; you’ll laugh and be disgusted at the same time. It avoids the murky green that pervades the modern horror flick. Many of the important scenes happen in broad daylight. The trailer promises that this is ‘The Return of True Horror.’ I have my reservations about this, but it is almost there.

And why, I hear you ask? Surely humour and horror do not a ‘true horror’ make? ‘Drag Me To Hell’ is simply unnerving. The humour helps the horror along nicely; you ask yourself “why is this funny?” after particularly disturbing scene. You’re laughing, but you’re not sure why. Mixing horror and humour keeps you on edge. The story of Christine is vital to the ‘horror’ element. The key to Christine is her boyfriend’s reaction to the psychic. He says “Freud said destiny was not an act of fate but rather something created by our subconscious to control our conscious choices.” The ‘true horror’ for Christine is that as she tries to prevent the Devil dragging her to Hell, more of the Devil inside her is revealed. It begins with her selfish touch choice; she rejects the mortgage payment extension not because of any rule or law, but because it would boost her chances of becoming Assistant Manager. Her destiny is written at that moment. The evil inside her (the repressed part of her Ego) is also revealed. Thus her choices are controlled from here on in; she has little choice in the matter.

I hear him...he is asking...for you to make a sandwich, Christine. Why are you not in the kitchen?
I hear him…he is asking…for you to make a sandwich, Christine. Why are you not in the kitchen?

“Help Me! Help Me Please!” 

It’s the repression around her that causes the ‘tough decision.’ Christine has not followed Beyonce’s words. She isn’t independent. Her boyfriend, a college professor, seems to be a quiet, caring man. Yet he is controlling and manipulative. He knows everything. After the first assault on Christine by the Lamia, her boyfriend blames it on post-traumatic stress. His parents, too, are another example of Christine’s repression. They are wealthy, middle-class people, and look down on her as a farmer’s child. Their son deserves an appropriate woman. Her desire to attain the Assistant Manager’s position is derived from her boyfriend’s parents. She’s eager to impress them. And of course, work is the centre of Christine’s repression. She’s the only visible woman working at the bank, yet she’s constantly undermined by her boss and Rabin. It’s clearly a man’s world.

Thus we have her tough decision, which leads her to several tough decisions all based on the advice of a psychic (a man). This repression is turned into physical, almost sexual violation by the gypsy and the Lamia. The Lamia smacks her around, and throws her into walls. Christine has several physical confrontations with the gypsy. The first one is when she gets cursed; the gypsy sucks her chin (she lost her dentures). Then the gypsy appears to her in a dream, vomiting masses of insects into Christine’s mouth. The gypsy appears to Christine and shoves her hand in her throat. Even a fly gets into Christine’s mouth. All of these are the mental repression made real; and all cause her to make ‘tough decisions.’

“You’d be surprised what you’ll be willing to do”

And every ‘choice’ she makes brings her closer to the Lamia (and Hell). She sacrifices her pet kitten. After a séance fails to exorcise the demon, her last option is to give away the ‘cursed button’ as a gift. Yet this is doomed to failure, and (SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) she doesn’t carry it through. She carries it in an envelope, and considers giving it to Rabin. Unable to do a truly horrific act, she digs up the grave of the gypsy and shoves the envelope into the corpse’s mouth. The day begins anew, and the future looks brighter for Christine. She gets the promotion, and she’s looking forward to a weekend away with her boyfriend. However, it turns out that she had the wrong envelope; her boyfriend has the cursed button. And she is dragged to Hell.

A nice little twist, and one that makes the title a little bit clearer. Christine’s subconscious has the ‘destiny of death.’ All the other decisions bring her closer to Hell. This descent into Hell is shown by Raimi through Christine’s choice of clothing; more and more of her skin is revealed throughout the film. After every ‘tough decision’ she wears a more revealing dress. And all because of an old lady. By revealing her Ego in such a brutish way, by harming a poor old lady, she is begging the Devil: ‘Drag Me To Hell!’   All in all, a very good film. Raimi plays it sparse with CGI, and for good reason; when he uses it, it looks pathetic. At times, the humour does threaten to outstrip the horror. However, it is almost ‘The Return of True Horror,’ as the main ‘horror’ element is that repressed part of Christine; it sends her to her doom. Horror has lost its way in recent years, resorting to awful remakes. Most of the major horror flicks of the 1970s/1980s have been remade, and Hollywood is forced to remake Japanese horror films (that are the True kings of Horror films.) They concentrate on the blood, the gore, the broken bones and gruesome death scenes, without reflecting on the true horror: the true horror of what lies beneath, of what drives all of our ‘tough decisions’…

VERDICT: 8/10. Sam Rami came back to prominence with ‘Drag Me To Hell.’ It’s a horror that eschews the needs for blood and guts for the horror of what really drives us…Well worth seeking out, even if it wasn’t universally loved on release.

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