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. The man in the suit finally satisfies his horror jones in the key of crowd-pleaser with the raucous Drag Me to Hell, in which loan officer Christine Brown (Lohman) angles for a new promotion by shutting the door on Mrs. Ganush (Raver), only to find herself cursed by the elderly woman and subjected to three straight days of torment before being swallowed up by the netherworld.
Compared to its most apparent kindred spirit, Raimi’s Evil Dead films, Drag is more interested in violating the idea of a safe haven. As our heroine wards off supernatural threats at home, at work, and in her sleep, 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.
Ellen Page (Juno) was originally signed to play the damned damsel, but it is difficult to believe that the plenty-talented Page could bring quite the same level of vulnerability that Lohman manages to convey, in spite of some hilariously horrible deeds and 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 and driven by a considerable amount of desperation, and while Raimi may put her through the ringer, it’s Lohman who takes us along with her, as she veers from cowardice to confidence in the face of obstacles wonderful and weird. As much as we want to see her play the victim, she achieves that subtle distinction between screaming and suffering that so few horror protagonists truly nail, and it’s a remarkable performance in a genre that so often settles for less.
As the requisite skeptical boyfriend, Justin “I’m a Mac” Long is adequate comic relief in a movie that doesn’t need it, 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. Raver, the wicked gypsy who just won’t quit, elicits about as much pity and induces as many nightmares as a face-gumming, dream-haunting, day-mucker-upper could.
Critics already seem eager to contrast Drag’s release with that of Pixar’s Up (read our review Friday at sacurrent.com). It’s doubtful that a B-grade movie spun with such grade-A flair and grounded by a performance likely to stand among the more unsung this year has much in common with Pixar’s latest project, but they share at least one common message: Don’t fuck with old people.