Drag Me to Hell marked Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre – from which he’d been absent since 1992’s Army of Darkness, undoubtedly kept busy by his work on the Spider-Man trilogy – and given the success of his Evil Dead franchise, the bar was fairly high.
On paper, Drag Me to Hell doesn’t sound particularly enthralling: a loan officer declines to grant a third extension on an elderly woman’s mortgage, and finds herself cursed as a result.
However, it’s the subtlety of the story that makes it work, with the nagging subtext of the main character’s apparent eating disorder a vein that runs through almost every single one of the film’s gross-out horror sequences.
Unfortunately, while there’s a lot going on beneath the surface, there’s more than one glaring issue with the plot. First is the repeated use of the word “gypsy”, as well as the plot device of the Roma woman placing a curse protagonist Christine. Both of these feed into the harmful stereotype of the Roma people (seriously, look up some of the things the Roma have to contend with even in today’s society – it’s horrifying), which sours the taste of what could otherwise been an instant classic.
There were also claims that the film made the implication that women shouldn’t strive for corporate success, with Christine becoming cursed for making a choice to further her career. This seems to be an unintentional by-product of the story when examined in a literal sense, although it still carries a dangerously dated message.
My main issue with the film (other than the racially insensitive material) was the overuse of unimpressive CGI to create campy 3D jump scares. On several occasions, we’re brutally reminded of the brief period in which 3D experienced a boom in popularity, with several of the film’s “scariest” moments making jarringly obvious use of the technology – CGI eyeballs flying directly at the camera, a shawl blowing right at the screen, etc. – and it simply looks awful by today’s standards.
Tonally, Drag Me to Hell felt a little lost. On the one hand, it’s telling a well-written horror story about a woman trying to overcome her demons, and on the other, it’s trying far too hard to gross us out – and then there’s the moments of humour. It’s unclear whether the film’s funnier moments were intentional or not, but if they were, they were oddly placed. The most notable is during a séance scene, when a character is briefly possessed by an evil spirit, and begins dancing a jig while floating in the air as the other characters attempt to banish it. It’s a moment that quickly passes without acknowledgement, but it literally had me laughing out loud in what seemed to otherwise be a serious scene.
There’s a lot about Drag Me to Hell that I enjoyed, but ultimately, I felt that it was dated both in a visual and a narrative sense, and a little confused about exactly what it should be. The abysmal CGI was also a barrier to my enjoyment of the film, particularly in its final shot (no spoilers, but again, bad CGI made the serious become unintentionally hilarious), although many of the film’s “scary” moments were ruined in much the same way. Alison Lohman delivered a solid turn as protagonist Christine, but many of her character’s choices fall pretty flat due to the inconsistency of the writing.
In all honesty, I had no idea how to feel about this film. All I can do is recommend that you watch it in order to form your own opinion. It’s not great, but fans of horror will probably enjoy it.
Summary: Poor presentation and insensitive writing mars an otherwise promising film. Drag Me to Hell grapples with one or two interesting themes, but falls just a little too flat in its execution, with many of its scarier moments delivered in poorly rendered CGI.