DRAG ME TO HELL, in theory, is a good movie, but as with all theory, scrutiny, minimal it may be, is required before theory metabolizes into law. In theory, this is Sam Raimi’s return to horror, a technically factual statement, yes, but as Brad at ILoveHorror.net so eloquently taped in his review, Raimi never was a horror director. His first three films, films rightfully considered genre canon for Raimi’s flirtation with genre conventions, his menage a trois between style, practastical gore and The Chin, are not pure bred horror. They’re the closest Raimi ever came to horror and are made only for horror fans, but that does not tether them exclusively to the horror baseline. Which is precisely why the EVIL DEAD trilogy is unimpeachable canon, after all.
All three are beautiful freaks of film, glorious mastication of the unrealities we lurve to expect from our field. And sadly I speak of a multi-genre chewing confined to an era gone, an era gone never to return.
I’m glad to have Sam Raimi making his horror movies again, honest, I am, but to herald DRAG ME TO HELL as the return of Raimi to horror is a misguided, though not disingenuous, notion. This is Sam Raimi’s return to Sam Raimi’s brand of horroromedy. But it’s nearly two decades late. DRAG ME TO HELL sinks its teeth into a few niches simultaneously, but it’s not the same as it was before. Raimi, rightfully enjoying the fruits of two decade’s labors, has no need for by-the-bootstraps filmmaking. No need to innovate, no need to compromise. Bigger budget and producer muscle has tamed the creative fury once seen powering herbaceous rape, severed hand assaults and castles sieged by armies of skeletons.
On the page DRAG features gags kin to those deadite favorites, gags bound to warm the nostalgia of any fan; on the screen cheap CGI spoils each and every one of these gags. There’s nothing innovative about the sequences, nothing glorious happens because nothing glorious actually happened. Nearly everything in DRAG ME TO HELL was spun together on a bank of hard drives somewhere, not stuck together on a set with spirit glue and hope. The whole production, fun it may be, feels empty. Raimi antics engineered for the Ghost House demographic.
You can never go home.
Yet as I write this, as I rotisserie the film in my mind, I find myself liking it less than I did walking out of the theater, which is a habit I’ve got to break. Even the Grinch in me must admit that DRAG ME TO HELL, ignoring its superior ancestry, is a fun idea movie. The plot, all one sentence of it, is simple enough to satisfy 99 minutes. The middle act kind of repeats itself (Christine isn’t going to shake the hellbound curse and no one believes her, we get it), but I admire the potential for versatility inherent to the gypsy plot curse. DRAG has the potential to be a franchise starter, after all. Given Ghost House’s record, it’ll be a straight-to-DVD franchise, but still, I can get behind one or two variants on the premise if they stay as lively as this.
I can’t get behind the lazy CGI, however. I’m puzzled by its appearance, actually. CGI powers nearly every gag in the movie, which is fine when goat headed shadows stalk across a wall, but not fine when eye balls are popping out of heads. Undiscerning youngsters won’t give two necromicons about how much kayro was on set, but it matters to me. Unless the computer’s end is going to be immaculate, I’ll take seeing the strings any day of the week. Some of DRAG’s visual effects are on par with barrel slinging warlocks in THE COVENANT, which is unacceptable in the year 2009 from a director as veteran with the tools as Raimi. I’d of never imagined a day in which Renny Harlin hands the high hat to Sam Raimi, but several of the bigger gags just do not muster.
Neither does headliner Alison Lohman, for that matter. She’s not a bad actress, not by a long shot, but her delivery of a character experiencing a mind blowing life change spends most of the movie under the general expression of a Percocet haze. Eventually she lifts out of it, but she plays the bewildered damsel a little too long. Her boyfriend Dr. Ross Geller Justin Long fits the role of the incredulous supporter, but despite his considerable charisma even he is rather forgettable until the film’s final moments. The side players of Lorna Raver and Dileep Rao are more interesting than either of the front runners, which is a symptom few films are better for having.
DRAG ME TO HELL may have the Ramian signature style in damn never every frame and it may have the staging of a more wizened, more vintage supernatural thriller, but it’s also got 2009 studio written all over it. It’s fun made hollow by the knowledge of what could have been, what should have been. I’m glad to see the father of EVIL DEAD back to putting the moves on our genre with his own wild personality, but if it ain’t broke…
DRAG may be a return of sorts to Raimi’s roots, but not to his indie sensibilities, which makes it far short of a real return. DRAG ME TO HELL is a postcard to Raimi’s roots with postage paid for by a machine whose very purpose is to filter and dilute.
You can never go home.