Monday, June 1, 2009

Goats, flies, and the farm girl: notes on Drag Me to Hell


1)  Sam Raimi's new finger exercise in modest horror filmmaking isn't especially scary, but it does display his joy in the craft and perhaps his relief from the pressure of the Spiderman franchise.  With its grey-tinged scenes and splattergore freak-outs, the film is schlocky fun.  I just have a hard time understanding why critics are so excited about this movie.

2) Loan officer Christine Brown (mild-looking, brown-eyed Alison Lohman) incurs a goat spirit curse from an old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) because Christine refuses to further delay loan payments on the hag's house.  Christine has three days to endure the old woman's attack, evil flies, lots of whirling winds, goat shadows, an eyeball that appears in a slice of cake, and so on.  She tries to battle the curse by seeking the help of a mystic, and by other means, but solutions often prove temporary.

3) Christine faces competition in the workplace as she tries to get promoted to the Assistant Manager position.  Her boyfriend Clay (the boyish Justin Long) also has parents who would prefer that he dump her for someone more befitting their upper-class lifestyle, but the goat spirit business diminishes the seriousness of these concerns, making them incidental.  

4) Two good things about Christine: she comes from a farm background, so she has no compunction about killing a kitten when needing something to sacrifice.  I liked it when she takes a large a knife and says "Here, kitty, kitty!"  Also, she also used to be fat, so when the stress of fighting the curse overwhelms her, she eats large amounts of chocolate ice cream.  Back in the day, when under pressure, Humphrey Bogart would knock back a shot of whisky or two.  Today, we binge on sweets.  

5) Drag Me to Hell caters to the young by endowing a goofy smarmy quality to all of the older characters (Christine's boss, Clay's parents).  If you add in the old gypsy woman and the many times she takes out her false teeth, one gets the impression that all older people in this movie are cartoonishly nightmarish.  

6)  At times, Raimi seems more interested in yucky gross-out humor than in scares.  Poor Christine suffers many things in her mouth:  an arm, a handkerchief, and bugs.  She also finds a corpse which oozes some green gunk onto her face.  At another time, her nose spouts blood all over her boss. At one point, a fly works its way inside her nose and then in her mouth.  Is this some variation on Spiderman imagery?

7) I don't get especially scared by the promise of some character going to hell, because I've always thought that humans are busy manufacturing a hell on earth here and now.  And don't most Christians no longer believe in hell?   Drag Me to Hell would have us accept that an innocent character like Christine might arbitrarily get caught in a sudden horrific doom, and no matter what she does to escape, the inexorable goat spirit will find her, but do we really need all of this mystical dutch-angled hugger-muggery?  Regular fate with its long-term threats of age, work, and random suffering strikes me as sinister enough.     

5 comments:

Hokahey said...

I just saw it last night. With a title like that, I had to see it. Also, I had read many positive things about it on the blogs. I wanted to find a post to disagree with, and I found yours first.

I totally agree with everything here - especially, every word of #1puts it right on!

I can see Raimi was having fun, but in the process he didn't provide me with enough fun.

I liked "Here, kitty, kitty." I was the only one who laughed out loud in my audience last night. Granted, there were only six other people in the theater.

Here's one for you -

She's in the shed and the hag is after her. What the fudge is an anvil doing hanging from a pulley? Fine, guess it was a joke on the genre. But it was plain stupid.

Liked the watery grave struggle. Wish it had ended there, happy or otherwise.

Also, did you notice that a number of the "scary" scenes were shot in broad, bright daylight???

FilmDr said...

Thanks Hokahey,

Yes, the handy anvil overhead is reminiscent of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The watery graveyard looked exactly like the one in Tim Burton's Frankenfurter. I was also struck by how Christine could suffer all manner of supernatural attacks and yet she cheerfully goes on to the next scene, unaffected.

Sam Juliano said...

Once again I completely disagree with both Hokahey and youself, but I assure you I am not here to start a war, overstay my welcome nor to violate your eternal graciousness and respect for the blogging community. You are a class act, always have been, and always will be, and I agree with you about 4/5 of the time.

I found this as the scariest and most exquisitely-crafted horror film since the Australian THE DESCENT. And I generally hate or dislike almost all contemporary horror films. Again I stand with the remarkable critical concensus (not that such a position means very much, except to note that so many found much to praise here, and why not voice some friendly disent) and am presently starting on my own review.

Much doesn't make sense, but I never held that to any kind of serious scrutiny in this ever-fantastical genre.

Again, your numerical queries are well-reasoned and terrifically posed.

Invisible Woman said...

"I just have a hard time understanding why critics are so excited about this movie."

Thank God, I thought it was just me! All I could see was a yuck-out fest of bodily and otherwordly fluids, and that's not scary, just gross.

"I was also struck by how Christine could suffer all manner of supernatural attacks and yet she cheerfully goes on to the next scene, unaffected."

For real.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Invisible Woman,

I wonder how much Sam Raimi's considerable achievements might have affected critical reactions to this movie.