Friday, May 29, 2009

SXSW Flashback: Drag Me to Hell

I don't generally make a point of seeing festival films again once they hit the regular theaters, but I will probably make an exception this weekend or next for Drag Me to Hell. The digital file projected in Austin was, well, a digital file, and I'd like to see it on film, from a better seat (I was sitting with some of the eFilmCritic and Cinematical folks, and they wanted to be able to get in and out for photography and the like). It was also a work-in-progress presentation, and though it looked pretty good, there were some scenes that were a little rough. One looks a bit better in the ads being shown, although coming as it does very late in the movie, it's got no business being in the ads.

Having set this review for time-release on HBS/EFC, it's a little amusing to see that while I'm talking about Raimi not losing any of his edge, part of the conversation about this movie has been how some want to skip it in the theater and wait for an unrated DVD/Blu-ray since the theatrical version has a PG-13 rating. I'd advise against that, because this is a tremendously fun audience movie; this sort of horror works much better with a crowd than alone in one's living room. PG-13 is also the movie's natural state; it's not looking to gross the audience out as much as creep them out, and it's not working on a slasher paradigm where most of the characters are cannon fodder to be bumped off in ever more disgusting ways.

As a side note to that, I don't know whether Universal is premiering a new logo with this or whether it's just a one-time thing, but the screening at SXSW didn't have the familiar "sun rising over CGI Earth" bit. Instead, it was a newly-rendered version of the old "zooming in on Earth through cosmic dust clouds" logo. That's kind of fitting, since the movie is a bit of a throwback to the sort of horror movie Universal did back in the day, which had jumps and scares but wasn't looking to exclude kids and teens.

Drag Me To Hell

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount Theater (SXSW Special Screenings)

Can you believe it's been over twenty years since Evil Dead 2? Considering how much of Sam Raimi's reputation and career is built on that movie and its particular style (he was considered an inspired choice for the Spider-Man films because of it), one would think he'd done more like it, but in fact he's ranged pretty far afield. Even Army of Darkness was something rather different, more PG-13-ish Ray Harryhausen tribute than horror. So while seeing him return to this genre is exciting, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether he's still got something like that in him.

Thankfully, he does. Drag Me to Hell is the Evil Dead 2-iest thing he's done since Darkman, if not ED2 itself, and reassuring in how it demonstrates that his time in the world of of big stars and big budgets hasn't changed him, but rather given him access to and mastery of new tools. Part of the reason why this one manages to retain the feel of an old-school Raimi movie is that it sort of is one - the script was first written years ago, and (I believe) pulled out during the 2007 writers' strike - but give Raimi (along with brother and co-writer Ivan) credit for not deciding to tone it down too much now that they're older and wiser.

When we meet Christine (Alison Lohman), the loan officer is up for a promotion to assistant manager of a Los Angeles bank; the branch manager (David Paymer) has it down to her and less senior but more aggressive Stu (Reggie Lee). An old woman (Lorna Raver) comes in seeking an extension on her mortgage payments; Christine hems and haws but ultimately refuses, noting Mrs. Ganush has had two already. The woman is upset, attacking Christine in the bank's parking garage. Boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) is just glad she's okay, but Christine doesn't think it's over, as weird things start happening and a slick-talking fortune teller (Dileep Rao) tells her she's been made the target of a lamia, a demon which will torment her for a few days before pulling her into Hell.

Full review at EFC, along with several others.

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