SXSW Review: Drag Me To Hell

"The film is fun -- pure, classic horror movie fun."

 

Some people, in reference to his new film Drag Me To Hell, will say that Sam Raimi "has still got it." They are wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. To say that is to intimate that he might have at some point lost it but instead has clung on to the talent he had before. No. Sam Raimi doesn't just "still got it," he's got the hell out of it. He's evolved. Sam Raimi has taken everything he learned from low budget B movie making and married it to the lessons he's learned from his big budget Hollywood efforts, creating an absolutely perfect horror film that hits every note properly and does so without a single misstep.

Drag Me To Hell is his grand horror opus, a chilling, audacious and occasionally hilarious romp through a genre that has recently gotten very, very stale. It is the story of a young girl (played by Alison Lohman) who, when put in a bad situation, ends up on the wrong end of a gypsy curse, a curse that makes her the target of an ancient demon that wishes to torment her for three days and three nights before coming back for its final prize: her soul. But she's not ready to part with existence so quickly and what follows is a classic haunting story told with all the wit and jocularity you would come to expect from Raimi. And yet I hesitate to really call this a comedy. It's funny. But it is Gremlins funny. Poltergeist funny. Frighteners funny. There are plenty of jokes, but the minute it wants to get scary, the moment it wants to be disturbing, it does so without hesitation.

The film is fun -- pure, classic horror movie fun. There are moments so outrageous, so unbelievably over-the-top that you will squirm in your seat, your arms writhing and contorting uncontrollably. You will most likely cry out at some point. Our audience did. Repeatedly. You will gasp and scream and howl and then laugh it off in a healthy mix of revulsion and good humor. Because what Raimi puts his heroine through is nothing short of cruel. He doesn't play nice; he doesn't let his characters off the hook at all. This isn't some story of triumph. It is the story of a girl who gets screwed and does whatever she can to fight back. Even if it involves blackening her own soul to do it.

Bold and irreverent, Drag Me To Hell is everything that fans of Raimi's earlier work are hoping for. If you love Evil Dead 2, Darkman, or Army of Darkness, this movie will tickle you in all the right spots. But at the same time, Raimi has learned how to work with a budget and uses it effectively here with great special effects, beautiful set design, and a cast worthy of his talents. As much as this film plays with all the B-movie tropes, it is done with A-list production values and executed with top-tier precision. There is nothing lazy, unimaginative, or middle-of-the-road to be found in this; here Raimi makes rather effective use of great, twinge-inducing ideas without needing gore to put an audience through the wringer. Simple, PG-13 rated effects make every hit hurt and shows everyone else how it's done. A perfect remedy for those bitter and tired of torture horror, it brings back mainstream fun scares in a big way. If this proves as successful as it deserves to be, it might breathe new life into a genre rife with remakes and lifeless ghost stories. It might even convince Warner Bros. to rethink their holding off of the similarly fun Trick 'r Treat which they have rotting on a shelf in their vaults.

What they showed us this weekend was labeled a "work in progress" print, but the film is 99% done. All that is left is the completion of a few special effects and the cleanup of a handful of digital artifacts. But the print was altogether watchable without the need for apology. Drag Me To Hell is due for release May 29 and should do a great job of being a worthy palate cleanser in between the other big budget summer hits. Put this down on your summer viewing schedule. And write it in pen. It is a must see.

Grade: A