Monday, June 8, 2009

Movie Review: Drag Me To Hell


A lot of horror films these days are very self conscious and precious, relying on some gimmick or sick over the top murders, torture and gore to pull in the world's jaded genre lovers. Failing that, they ink into a pathetically adolescent mire of nihilistic hopelessness.

Of course, horror films have always contained a certain level of comedy too - one of our most common defences against fear is laughter, and commonly we respond to the terrible with a nervous chuckle or laugh. We also love to be scared anyway - what other species would willingly put its life at risk on a bit of metal shooting around at 90mph through loops and bends and sheer drops? It's exciting, and excitment is one of the benefits conscious life gives us.

Despite these facts, broad obvious comedy and horror don't really work together; that is to say, comedy with jokes is terrible. Comedy arising from genuinely horrible events is how the most successful genre movies succeed - particularly in Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, where none of the humour is played anything other than straight, and we enjoy a huge laugh at the expense of the hapless and put upon anti-hero that is Bruce Campbell's legendary "Ash" as things go from bad to worse. And then get worser. And then get worserer.

Raimi is back to doing the same trick in Drag Me To Hell, only Bruce Campbell's geek turned psycho has been replaced with Alison Lohmann's cute as a button Loans manager. In fact the major disappointemnt here is that Campbell is not present at all, even in a miniscule form like Ted Raimi's "blink and you'll miss the back of his shoulder" cameo.

What makes this film better than 99% of the current trendy torture-porn or lazy remake set is that it is utterly focussed, relentless and true to its admittedly hokey subject. No character ever breaks the fourth wall and starts expounding on how ridiculous everything is from a post modern oh so clever standpoint. Noone is killed purely for pointless shock value, and what shocks there are, are highly crafted and timed to perfection, relying on an icky "ewwww" factor more than a gory "vomit" factor. This means that the certifcate can be a market maximising 15, without cutting back on the actual effectiveness of the movie.

And sure, some of the figures are clich├ęd and obvious - the domineering mother, the evil gypsy, the so nice it's embarrassing boyfriend, but what the film is actually about is entertainment. There's no beat or manouevre made that isn't purely to build up to the next part of the ride; never before has Raimi's Ghost House production studio actually lived up to its name.

Another factor in your involvement here is how UNFAIR the whole situation is - Lohmann's Christine Brown hasn't really done anything wrong at all; as someone who has worked in collections I can assert that the fault for non payment of Mrs Ganush's mortgage lies, in the end with Mrs Ganush (or the jackass that gave her a sub-prime mortgage) so the whole way through you are rooting for Christine to right this wrong.

It is exciting, unpretentious, memorable and funny.

Plus there's a talking goat. Awesome.

Highly recommended for fans of the genre and especially fans of Sam Raimi's early work. It's not as good as Evil Dead or its sequel (both would get a 9/10 from me) but it is the best horror movie I have seen in years.

(The Orphanage, while an incredible achievement, doesn't count, since anyone who describes that as horror missed the point entirely)


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