Saturday, June 6, 2009
Play it again, Sam
Despite having many, many more important things to do with my free time, I dropped everything tonight and went to see DRAG ME TO HELL, Sam Raimi's long-awaited return to the horror genre. I was in the mood for a good horror flick and Suzanne had other things going on.
Christian (who Suze calls my "Horror Movie Girlfriend") was supposed to go with me but opted to stay home with his daughter instead. Go figure. I think I'm cuter but whatever. It struck me as I was watching the coming attractions and munching on popcorn that this was probably the first movie I'd gone to see by myself since high school. I'd done it plenty as a kid but once you hit high school, there's a stigma attached to seeing a movie by yourself. Only "losers" and dudes going to pornos do that. You either have to go with a gang of your buds or on a date with your "best girl." I guess that stuck with me and so it's only now, some twenty years later, that I actually took the plunge. And it was kind of cool. Certainly not my preference but not too bad at all.
I have to say I wasn't originally looking forward to it, after SPIDER-MAN 3 was such a huge disappointment. I figured Raimi'd gone all Hollywood on us and lost his edge. Boy, was I wrong. DRAG ME TO HELL was pretty terrifying. I prefer horror movies that focus on the chills and thrills than on gore and torture. And Raimi poured on the thrills by the bucket-full. You probably know the premise. A young bank loan officer (Allison Lohman) tries to earn a promotion by being tough with an old down-on-her-luck Gypsy (Isn't that supposed to be an offensive word?) woman and the old biddie curses her. ("Puts the roots on her" as Suzanne would say.) The next hour-and-a-half is some of the most chilling, harrowing creepshow shit than I've seen in a very long time. Some of it is cheap thrill jump-scares but it's done so effectively that I didn't care. Then there's the stuff we've come to expect from ol' Uncle Sammie. The crazy camera moves. The nasty body fluids-to-the-face. (I bet Bruce Campbell was glad he wasn't in this one.) The slapstick comedy. Thankfully, he went easy on that last one. It was absolutely spectacular.
Until halfway in.
Unfortunately, about 40 minutes in or so, Raimi has his heroine do something that I (and probably half the people in the theater with me) found so heinous and reprehensible that I completely lost any sympathy for her whatsoever. I stopped pulling for her and didn't care if she got out of her predicament or not. Her occult advisor (I don't know the actor's name but he's wonderful) gives her advice on how she may break the curse and tells her something like "You'll be surprised what you'll be capable of after a couple of days under the curse." Well, it only takes her about a half a day. I think I could have forgiven her if she'd endured a bit more before playing that card but she went all-in right away. She almost redeems herself later on but not quite.
I find it interesting, though, because I just read an article in SCRIPT magazine by a writer bemoaning the fact that Hollywood seems to feel that all protagonists need to be "sympathetic." In effect, if the audience doesn't like and identify with the main character, doesn't feel the hero is "like me", the movie has failed. He uses the opera Don Giovanni and the character Salieri in AMADEUS as examples to prove his point that you don't have to like a protagonist or even identify with him/her to have a stake in the outcome of a story. And I completely agree with him. Except in the horror genre. Unless you're making a movie in which the villain IS the protagonist (Francis Copolla's DRACULA for instance), the entire point of the movie is whether or not the main character will survive and/or destroy the monster/serial killer/supernatural force. I'm not saying I want a happy ending...most horror works best without one. But I have to care whether there's the possibility for one. By having the heroine perpetrate the foul deed, Raimi made me halfway hope she didn't get out of her predicament. And that took a little of the fun out of it for me.
That's too bad because DRAG ME TO HELL is very nearly a perfect horror film. The ending (which I won't spoil) was slightly telegraphed but was so perfectly set up from the beginning that it didn't feel like a cheat and was completely satisfying from a story perspective that I actually laughed with delight. If you absolutely must wait for DVD or Bluray for this one, make sure you know somebody with an awesome sound system because the sound engineering in this one (much like Raimi's EVIL DEAD films) is a big part of the fun.
Posted by Matt Wieringo at 7:13 PM