Nepali Times
Critical Cinema
Respect your elders, or go to hell


In recent years, horror films have taken a turn for the grotesque and the sadistic, demanding firm constitutions of their audiences. Fans are now more proud of their capacity to tough out the gore on offer than concerned about whether they're scared witless or not. The humour, fun and the DYI delight, if you excuse the pun, has been bled out of the horror genre.

This is all a preamble to how welcome this critic (whose guts flip at the sight of, well, guts) finds the return of Sam Raimi (of Evil Dead fame) to the horror genre, following his tenure at the helm of the Spider Man franchise. Guts stay safely on the inside, but thrills, chills and laughs abound in Raimi's Drag Me to Hell.

The one-time ultra-low budget filmmaker now has a much bigger purse, allowing him to add polish even as he relies on insinuation and almost slap-stick action for most of the scares and laughs. After she denies a gypsy woman an extension on her home loan, loan officer Christine Browne (Lohman) falls victim to a curse that decrees that after being tormented by a demonic spirit for three days, it will literally, as the title suggests, drag her to hell.

Drag Me to Hell is a sequence of entertaining, deliciously wicked, funny and often gross set-pieces, (including the now-famous, incongruous smackdown between the toothless old lady hell-bent on revenge and poor Christine attempting to stave her off with a series of stationery implements). The plot, if you could call it that, is propelled by Christine's dawning realisation of her predicament - yes, a malevolent supernatural force is actually going to drag her to hell ? and her growing desperation to save herself. The meek Christine is transformed into a spunky and determined heroine ready to protect the life she has carefully planned, with its aspirations to a middle-management position and a boyfriend above her social station. The success of the film pivots on the performance of its lead, and Lohman delivers wonderfully, capturing the hand-wringing guilt and insecurities of her character, the right degree of disgust at the humiliations she has to endure, and the gritty resourcefulness she eventually comes up with.

Horror movies are often considered modern-day morality tales, and director Raimi has clearly stated his intention to have Drag Me to Hell continue in this vein. But even as it operates on the level of the typically thin moralism of the genre ('don't be mean to old ladies or an old witch is going to chew on your face and a demon is going to drag you to hell', in this case), Drag Me to Hell is amenable to a deeper interpretation. It probes the degree of suffering we tolerate, indeed cause, in our society for the sake of narrow self-interest or a sense of security. Christine's futile effort to extricate herself from her culpability points to the damning depth of her complicity - and by extension our complicity - to the suffering and anguish of others. In Christine's case, her lack of compassion is dressed up as protocol and business interest that masks her personal ambition, but aren't we all alienated from the suffering of our fellow humans in some way and profiting from their misery? Luckily for viewers who aren't interested in asking questions of such a philosophical bent, Drag Me to Hell will prove thrilling and funny as all hell.

Drag Me to Hell
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Alison Lohman, Lorna Raver, Justin Long, Dileep Rao
2009. PG-13. 99 mins.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)