Monday, May 19, 2014

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Sam Raimi directed some timeless classic horror films a long time ago. However, this is not one of them, as today I’m talking about Drag Me to Hell. Touted as a return to the Evil Dead type of horror/comedy Raimi did with Army of Darkness in particular, this mostly just comes off as a sad attempt to be hip by a middle-aged guy who long since lost the spirit and hunger to make something this pulp and silly.

Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long

(Review co-written with Michelle and Kevin.)

This supposedly wacky horror comedy got popular back when it came out in 2009, with a lot of people touting it as a return to form for the horror genre. Me, I always thought it was really lame myself, with weak jokes and no good characters or atmosphere to latch onto. Seeing as it's been five years now and people mostly don't talk about this film anymore like they did when it came out, I think that's proof once again that I am right about everything.

We kick off the idiocy with a little Spanish kid getting taken by the devil. I guess the devil saw his future and tapped him as a Fantasy Football player, wanting to get a hold of him early before God could.

Apparently Hell has a lot of golden lights emanating from it. Sort of like a really expensive Hollywood movie premier event. On second thought I guess those things aren't that different.

Also, I love how shallow the Earth really is – apparently hell is just right below the surface of the Earth. Whodathunkit? We could’ve discovered this digging into the ground for oil or something even! What were we wasting our time with all these theology and religious-based debates for? The answer was, quite literally, right beneath our feet.

But enough about that. It’s time for bank politics! Main character Christine, played by Alison Lohman, is vying for the assistant manager position at her bank. Only problem is, she’s surrounded by assholes like her boss and the sycophantic idiot who’s also in the running for the position. Because this movie is a piece of shit with no clever writing whatsoever, of course everyone is a total dick to Christine with no redeeming factors. Her boss and the other guy order her to go out and get them sandwiches, then bitching when she doesn’t get the right ones. What a bunch of douchebags.

"Heh heh...we devour goodness and purity like starving cannibals."

Her boyfriend’s mom, who she overhears on the phone, says she isn’t good enough for her son because she can’t advance his social status or career at all. What the fuck is this, the fucking 1950s? Who talks like that in what’s supposed to be 2009? It's not like she's a fuckin' cashier at Walmart! She's a loan officer at a bank!

Oh yeah, look at how lowly she is compared to him. She only works at a bank, has her own house, can support herself financially and has something to eat every day. Truly this is the low class of American society!

Yes, I know some people probably do have parents this pushy and asshole-ish. However, the way the movie does it is totally one-sided and lacking in humanity or depth. We don’t know the characters – Christine, her boyfriend or his mom – well enough, so it just comes off like shitty writing where the writers didn’t know how to create real drama. Don’t know how to create a compelling conflict or a real dramatic scenario? Just have everyone be assholes to one another! Easy fix!

While it would be hilarious if the entire movie after the opening was just bank drama without anything related to dragging people to hell, we do have to get on with the main plot. This old caricature of what gypsy women look like (seriously; one eye, wrinkled face, hooded head, shawl around her neck, ratty old robes, the whole package) comes in and asks for an extension on her mortgage payment, saying she can’t work because of an eye infection. Apparently she’s already had two extensions and Christine doesn’t seem to think it will help her promotion if she grants another one. The movie treats this like Christine has done something awful that deserves punishment – really, why though? Because some old lady can’t pay for her house and denies all the other options available to her?

Yeah, seriously – Christine tries to help the old lady find other options, like staying with her daughter or at an assisted living home. But the old lady refuses all of those options, gets on her knees and shouts and begs to her, and then says Christine has shamed her.

Uh, pretty sure SHE didn’t make YOU get on your knees and start screaming in the middle of the bank, you psychopath! If that’s not enough, she then breaks free of the security guards’ grasp and tries to strangle Christine. That usually works to make loan officers finally change their minds and help you. Why didn’t it work this time?!

Outside in the parking garage, Christine gets jump-scared by a blanket that apparently has the power of thunder in it:

Jump scared by a little piece of cloth - I think this is a new low for wimpiness in horror movie main characters.

Then she sees the old lady in the back of her car, because I guess gypsies now know how to pick locks and, even more implausibly, know exactly which car belongs to the person they are looking for. Seriously, how did she know which car was Christine's anyway? I guess the movie's theory is that gypsies are actually psychic ninjas.

What follows is a trademark of the film – an overly long, unfunny fight scene trying too hard to be silly. I can’t tell which is true – either the old lady really has a lot of fight in her, to go on this long, or Christine is just weak sauce all the way down to her bone marrow. I’m going with the second one, just because I hate Christine so much.

The old lady eventually stops and decides fighting is for the low commonfolk – instead, she takes Christine’s button from her coat and curses it. Man, I hate when that happens. The old ‘bank lady wouldn’t do what I wanted, so I cursed her to eternity burning in Hell’ scenario. Just one of life’s most unpleasant situations!


Christine and her boyfriend, played by Justin Long, go to see a psychic – the first random asshole they find on the nearest strip mall. He turns out to be a wacky fat guy who charges them $60 to go back and listen to him recite some dialogue from the South Park episode about John Edwards. “I see you’ve recently lost something” … no shit, Sherlock!

"Right this way to getting ripped off! Not by my fraudulent psychic-ness which we never actually see evidence of, but by the cliche and underwhelming writing."

I also love how Justin Long does nothing but bitch about the cost of the psychic reading, and then they finally go back to do it, and all he does is try and debunk the psychic, debating his faith – seriously, just shut up, you fucking idiot. You paid for the psychic to read her, so let him do it and get it over with! This is yet another example of the shitty writing this movie tries to pass off for something resembling character development. Maybe if you squint. "This almost looks like character development … no, no, wait; it’s actually just complete goddamned annoying hack-work. My bad. I guess they're kinda interchangeable in modern horror films."

This psychic guy pretty much serves as the movie’s exposition fairy. He comes back several times throughout this thing to wave his magic wand and sprinkle exposition on us like glitter at a five-year-old’s birthday party – and I say that because the movie treats us like five-year-olds. The story is pretty banal – so this demon, Lamia, wants to drag her to Hell because she was cursed by the gypsy. However, if she can give the cursed button to someone else, she can pass the curse on and the Lamia will take them instead! I guess the Lamia really just isn’t too discerning. Hypothetically, the gypsies could curse a serial killer and have him dragged to hell for his crimes, but he could just make some poor innocent person take the object he was cursed with, and he’d be scot free. What a gyp!

... Heh heh heh. That joke is enough to make me worthy of going to hell.

All we get after this are a bunch of tired scenes where Christine thinks she sees something in the shadows, which eventually comes out and jump-scares her. That’s pretty much all the “scary” material this movie has – loud jump scares. It’s the horror equivalent to eating at fucking McDonalds four times a week – no substance and bad for you. I don’t think this movie will make you physically fat, but it won’t do your mental processes any wonders – it’s mind junk food. Although I don't think eating the DVD of this movie would be nutritious either.

When you think about it – if this demon is going to spend all this time scaring Christine in dumb ways, WHY NOT JUST TAKE HER TO HELL RIGHT NOW? What the fuck’s the difference?!

This girl can't even handle little pieces of cloth; how will she fare against pots and pans?!
Maybe the Master Hand from Super Smash Bros. is just doing Bunny Ears over this shadow's head...

Oh, but I guess the jump scares are supposed to be funny, so it’s OK that they make no sense, set no atmosphere and have no point. But again – funny! Even if they are about as funny as a hernia. If you think the Looney Tunes would be funnier if they mixed in elements of Happy Tree Friends, or if you think that annoying guy with Down’s on the city bus who spends a 40-minute ride poking you in the arm with his dirty fingers is hilarious, you’ll maybe find some of these scenes funny. But I really don’t.

You want an example? How about the scene where Christine goes to seek out the gypsy for help and finds that she’s dead – but then somehow, through some truly Herculean slapstick antics, the gypsy ends up rolled on top of Christine and vomiting in her mouth:

Or in the garage, when the ghost of gypsy lady appears, shoves her fist down Christine’s throat and then explodes her eyeballs and everything all over Christine’s face:

You really aren't even trying anymore, are you?

This just isn’t funny – I know there are people out there who will disagree, and that there are many, many different senses of humor. I know all that, but this just isn’t funny. But if you want something that is funny, how about Christine murdering her own cat when the psychic guy tells her she can sacrifice an animal to stop the demon from dragging her into hell? So that’s what she does!

New camera style: murdered cat vision! I foresee this having a lot of opportunities for use in future movies!

Cat murder is hilarious! If you're a complete psychopath I guess. It’s not like it even works, anyway – maybe burying it outside was what Christine got wrong. Oh well. You're a cat murderer now! How do you feel about that, Christine?

I thought so.

We get a dinner scene with Justin Long’s parents, who look down on Christine because they think she’s a bank teller – Justin Long actually has to tell them she’s a loan officer. Wow. So they looked down on her for something that wasn’t true and even went through the trouble of goading Justin to break up with her to enhance his social circle. What a bunch of idiotic wastes of air these people are.

"When I'm not judging people incorrectly, I'm voting in elections without knowing most anything about the other candidate or my own!"
"...Mom, you're the worst!"

At least things start to turn around when Christine says her mother is an alcoholic – prompting Justin Long’s mom to say she can relate because her own mother was also an alcoholic. You know, ‘cause working in a bank is just something to be ashamed of, but alcoholic moms - you know, a clear sign of the low class behavior this character stated she didn't want around her son earlier - are A-OK. That totally makes sense with what we know of the mom's character, right?

Oh no, the audience is thinking too much about the phoned-in writing! THROW IN SOME MORE GORE AND COMEDY ATTEMPTS!

This actually isn't the demon's work at all; Christine's home-made cake just had eyes mixed into it FOR REAL!

Complete with Christine throwing a glass at the door and screaming at the demon to go away, thus looking crazy in front of her boyfriend’s parents. Voila – no one will be able to take any of this seriously now, and thus no one will criticize the obviously awful parts of it! Our work here is done, gentlemen.

Next we get a scene where they finally try to get rid of the demon hunting Christine. Fat Indian psychic guy appears again to wave his wand and make exposition fall from the sky: apparently they can transfer the demon into a goat and then kill it to make all of this stop. Gee, if it was that easy, why didn’t you do it before? Oh well – I guess they called in this old Spanish woman who was related to that kid who got snatched in the beginning. She acts as the ‘medium’ to get the ball rolling. The only problem is, she sucks at it.

", are the demons gone now?"
"What demons? I was just auditioning for a Broadway production of The Exorcist! I'm not actually an exorcist at all!"
And then they all died because the demon killed them!

That’s right – she sucks ass at this job. Why? Because the demon pretty much immediately possesses her. Apparently it transfers bodies if they touch one another – which is really just convenient to make a bunch of silly jokes where it goes into the goat and starts talking, then into some other guy and starts doing a dance … it’s really just goofy slapstick. I guess there are worse parts of this movie though.

It's the new vocalist for The Mountain Goats!
Wow. Talk about a movie going down in flames - literally.

The medium lady dies afterward, and I’d sorta feel bad, if it wasn’t her own incompetence that made this happen – seriously, she’s the lowest-rent exorcist I’ve ever seen! Somebody send her back to the unemployment line. At least in other crappy exorcism scenes they at least get it right!

Then psychic guy tells Christine she can transfer the button to a dead person, which means she can go dig up the gypsy lady’s grave and give the button back. I’m just glad it only took a dead medium before the psychic told Christine about this much easier idea!

Before doing that, she does sit alone in a diner and ponders who to give the button to. At first she thinks about giving it to some old guy with an oxygen machine, because hey, he’s gonna die anyway! What’s the difference whether he BURNS IN HELL FOREVER or not? This character is awful – who can really empathize with her? Apparently because his wife comes over, she changes her mind. Great – that’s sort of like planning to kill someone but then stopping because you like the color of their hair. While it’s good you didn’t kill anyone, your reasoning is not necessarily something deserving of praise.

She also tries to blackmail the Asian guy from the bank to give the button to him. It turns out he’s actually been betraying the bank by giving their clients to a rival bank for months now. That would actually be a good reason to send him to hell, but I guess Christine has an attack of conscience again and doesn't do it – oh how pesky that conscience is.

So then it’s grave-diggin’ time!

It's also 'cater to mud wrestling fetishists' time.

So that’s what she does – she digs up gypsy lady’s grave on a night where rain is falling like a leaky faucet with no plumbers in sight, and attempts to give back the button. The movie can’t just let this be a short scene though – no, we need even more scenes of dumb slapstick with the dead gypsy lady in the flooded grave. Jesus, this is annoying. She just won’t die. If all dead people put up THIS MUCH of a fight, I doubt we’d have funerals at all; we’d just adopt cremation as the official practice.

You really can't even fight off a fucking corpse? Is the dead body in a grave really your equal match in terms of fighting skills?
Yes, kill her, kill her, KILL HER.
...I don't have a problem. I swear!

After that, Christine thinks it’s all over. She goes to a train station to meet Justin Long and go away on vacation. Seeing a new blue coat in a store window, she asks the store clerk to buy it even though the store isn’t open yet. Even though it would be totally OK for the store clerk to refuse her, somehow spoiled brat Christine gets her way:

"If you don't give me that coat even before your store opens, I will whine and cry like an annoying Hellspawn. And trust me, you don't want that fate!"

And this is the final straw for the Lamia, who decides bullying shop owners at train stations is just too much. So he drags her down to hell!

Was that what she really looked like under the blush and eyeshadow? Man, modern medicine can do wonders.

Actually this is because Christine never gave the button away after all – it was actually one of Justin Long’s coins from his coin collection sealed in an identical envelope. Because I guess checking whether you’re giving the right thing is too much work, especially when it’s just your mortal soul on the line! Fuck it, she deserves to go to hell.

"NO! I lost four previous girlfriends this exact same way!!!"

This whole movie was weak. Overall I’ve seen worse, and there’s nothing here that struck me as absolutely god-awful, but it’s still not good either. It’s more annoying than either funny or scary; there are really only a few jokes that get a chuckle here and there. Raimi seems to have lost his touch for these sorts of films. He aims for comedy and hits ‘sloppy’ instead. The characters aren’t good, and the story is boring at best and filled with holes at worst. There’s no real atmosphere set here, and the jump scares are all incredibly cheap and phoned in. I mean, come on, she gets jump-scared by a little piece of cloth. That's horse shit so rancid you can smell it from space.

You could argue that that’s the point – the film is supposed to be bad – but once again that is a cop-out argument, and really just a transparent shield for hack artists to make substandard work. Just because something is supposed to be bad doesn’t shield it from criticism, and it doesn’t make your movie magically good. You can’t just make a shitty movie and defend it by saying it’s supposed to be that way – it’s still a fucking shitty movie and that’s that. If you want to make a schlocky, silly horror film paying tribute to the genre classics, you still have to put in real effort and make a good movie.

Sigh. So what did we learn this week again? Not paying your mortgage is OK as long as you can curse the bank employees to hell for just doing their jobs. Cat murder is also OK as long as you have a good reason. Uh huh. Alright. We’re learnin’ big stuff now!

Images copyright of their original owners. I own none of them.