Horror movies have a grandfather’s morality; piddling vices are Hell-worthy and young people are always up to no good. Every time the unwed have sex in a horror movie their life insurance premiums quadruple. If you drink, you might as well drink glass. And yet, young people are the audience for these movies. Do the under-30’s want to suffer vicariously? Is disapproval cathartic? In the new Sam Raimi horror schlock, Drag Me to Hell, a twentysomething becomes the pronoun in the title just for denying a septuagenarian a loan. It’s as if your grandfather was asked what the problem is with young people today and Beelzebub offered a solution.
After a brief prologue wherein a Hispanic boy is eaten by a hallway, the action switches to a young white woman practicing her elocution (whether Mr. Raimi intends some racist diatribe against the Hispanic community by juxtaposing these scenes, we’re left to ponder). The white woman works as a loan officer at a bank. One day an elderly Romani woman comes to ask for a loan, and is denied it (So all gypsies are satanic beggars, huh Mr. Raimi?). The Romani woman puts curse on the young loan officer. In three days, the white girl’s carefully-enunciating WASP soul is going to Hell. That is, unless she’s willing to do serious knife-wielding harm to her pet kitten…
Alison Lohman does well as a cat killer, but how sweet it would have been to have Juno’s Ellen Page as the loan officer. Originally it was going to be Ellen in the lead, but problems on set (let’s start a spurious rumour here and say: Page behaving like a Tennessee Williams’ heroine) led to Lohman getting the offer. It isn’t that Lohman is ill-equipped to play a meek, then terrified, then “come get some, bitch!”-type character, but Page could have chewed this part like a piranha. In order for the story to work, we need to see that “Christine” (as she’s called) is Scarlett O’Hara on the inside; someone who’d stab a cat to save herself, or harass a corpse. Lohman is fine when the story calls for her to be Julie Andrews, but there isn’t enough wickedness in her to make you cheer her schemes.
Equally bland in the role of her boyfriend is teen-horror veteran Justin Long. What happened to the guy who had his eyeballs ripped out in Jeepers Creepers? Long used to have a sexy whiney-jerk persona. Here, he’s been dipped in mayonnaise. Partly it’s because the script does him no favours. His character is one long list of male star no-nos: he’s in thrall to his class-obsessed parents; he’s an academic; he doesn’t do anything pro-active when his girlfriend is attacked by demons. Movies never really know what to do with men who aren’t the lead in movies. For writers, the directive seems be: a man, without balls. So we get Long simpering and acting about as manly as an air freshener. Even when “Christine” gets hit by a train, he’s dithering over whether to pull her off the track.
The real star of Drag Me to Hell is Sam Raimi. The movie wouldn’t exist without its star-director’s clout. After Spider-Man, Raimi could have made a movie about a box factory if he’d wanted to, but instead he chose this (anyone who had their bet on a Simón Bolívar bio-pic was a tad optimistic). Raimi is guy with one thing to say, and that’s: boo! He took his shot at a “serious” movie in 1998 with A Simple Plan (“serious” in this case meaning Billy Bob Thornton with Scotch Tape on his glasses), and it bombed. Drag Me to Hell is a movie made by a guy who’s given up his dream of being Steven Soderbergh. He’ll settle for island-owner money and a comic-book approach.
A young woman is dragged to Hell: she wanted a promotion. Somewhere in there there’s a lesson about Hollywood (know thy place in the pecking order). It’s the usual Old Testament crap. The slightest slip and the devil will get you. As if all horror movies came down to God fearing advice. Drag Me to Hell has fun violating movie taboos (e.g. the cat gets it), but ultimately it’s a fairly tame trip to the dark side (e.g. the cat survives). A better movie would have brushed off its guilt about Christine’s actions and allowed us to root for her. Ellen Page would have made the difference. In horror, you need a punk heart to tell your grandfather where to get off.