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"DRAG ME TO HELL"
(2009) (Alison Lohman, Lorna Raver) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A bank loan officer must contend with a curse put on her by an irate customer that promises her three days of demonic torment before being dragged down to Hell.
PLOT:
Christine Brown (ALISON LOHMAN) is a young loan officer working at Wilshire Pacific Bank who's vying for an open assistant manager position. Yet, her new coworker, Stu Rubin (REGGIE LEE), is also after the job and is doing his best to impress their boss, Jim Jacks (DAVID PAYMER), and make her seem weak in comparison.

Accordingly, when Jim leaves it up to Christine about whether to grant a third loan payment extension to elderly client Sylvia Ganush (LORNA RAVER), she makes her decision based on professional and not compassionate reasons. Mrs. Ganush begs for another chance, but then feels that Christine has publically shamed her. As a result, she attacks Christine in the parking lot late at night, putting an evil curse on her. Christine's boyfriend, psychology professor Clay Dalton (JUSTIN LONG), thinks the latter is just a bunch of hooey, but when weird things start happening, she decides to visit seer Rham Jas (DILEEP RAO).

He informs her that Ganush has unleashed a supernatural force, the Lamia, on her, and that after three days of poltergeist type hauntings, the demon will literally drag her down to Hell. With Clay still not believing any of this but trying to remain supportive, Christine does what she can to deal with the supernatural attacks, all while hoping to make amends with Ganush and/or remove that curse from herself before it's too late

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Although not all such institutions are guilty and some of the blame obviously rests on the shoulders of home buyers who tried to take advantage of non-traditional loans, the consensus nowadays is that banks are viewed as the culprits and even villains in our current national and global economic mess.

Many folks have likely cursed them for what they did and/or continue to do in terms of loans, but how many people have actually put an honest to goodness (or should that be badness) curse on them? The world may never know the exact figure, but we're certain of at least one: Sylvia Ganush.

She's an elderly woman who's gotten behind on her loan payments due to a recent medical condition that's left her with a bad-looking eye. Thus, she's visited the local branch of her bank to ask and then beg for a third extension to avoid foreclosure.

But up and coming loan officer Christine Brown is trying to ward off her new coworker from getting her promotion and thus rules in favor of the bank and turns down the request. As a result, the old gypsy woman decides to get her revenge by putting a curse on the young woman, knowing full well it will drag her down. To Hell. Literally.

Thus is the setup for the aptly named "Drag Me To Hell," a return to the horror genre for writer/director Sam Raimi who dabbled in the "Evil Dead" trilogy before branching off into other genres and, ultimately, huge success with the "Spider-Man" films.

With a smaller budget and less of a built-in audience, the filmmaker goes back to his roots of simpler filmmaking and storytelling. And it's a welcome return as the helmer, along with his brother & co-scribe Ivan Raimi, has crafted a highly entertaining flick, filled with jolts, goo and plenty of giddy frights.

Granted, it's clearly not for all audiences, and I'm guessing it might be somewhat to fairly scary and/or disturbing for certain viewers. For everyone else, however, and especially if you get the joke and go along for the ride, this may just be the best cinematic equivalent to an amusement park, carnival or seaside boardwalk dark ride (a.k.a. haunted funhouse attraction) ever put on film.

And that's because, as they like to say for reasons not exactly known, the proof's in the pudding as viewers will likely and constantly alternate between shrieking and laughing along with the blatant jump scenes, over-the-top gross stuff (still somehow narrowly within the parameters of the MPAA's PG-13 rating scheme), and humor of both the direct and indirect kind (my favorite being the use of a rheostat to set the mood lighting for an upcoming sťance).

Yes, some slasher films go for the same effect -- to varying degrees of success where viewers are allowed in on the often grisly joke -- but Raimi and company take that to new heights, genre tongue firmly planted in movie cheek, the latter which will make it all the more enjoyable for viewers looking for this sort of entertainment.

Accordingly, material that would otherwise be disturbing to some/many viewers -- not just the demonic stuff and included scares but also that involving animal sacrifice or the protagonist trying to choose whom to pass the curse on to, etc. -- is never played realistically, with the black comedy tinting meaning it's never taken seriously.

Lohman is good as the heroine in peril who follows the traditional route of going from reactive victim to proactive warrior, and the likes of Justin Long, Dileep Rao and Reggie Lee are okay in their basically one-note supporting roles. But it's Lorna Raver as the vengeful gypsy who steals the show, creating a truly memorable horror villain.

While the character is all about shock effects with nearly no depth (unlike, say, the Jack Torrance character in "The Shining"), it's still a fun role where, like the best of them, the character doesn't let a little thing like death stymie her modus operandi. And that's basically to torment the protagonist from beyond and, in one particular instance, inside the grave during a giddy, gross and spooky moment sure to have viewers laughing, shrieking or both.

All of which makes "Drag Me to Hell" a blast to watch, what with Raimi knowing full well which buttons to push for such desired effects. Purposefully not scary in a traditional, unnerving sense but instead combining fun, funny and frightening into a delicious mix reminiscent of the best haunted house attraction, this is undeniably an entertaining ride. And for those looking for such giddy thrills, you can take that directly to the bank. The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 26, 2009 / Posted May 29, 2009


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