Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Real Drag Me To Hell Review

For me, it all came down to Christine Brown.

Yes, I was excited that Sam Raimi was coming back to horror. Like every other horror fan, I grew up on the Evil Dead movies; fell in love with their kinetic energy and lunatic enthusiasm. Unlike some cats out there, I don't NEED more ED movies made. It's been a bit too long and we all know what happens when beloved franchises are returned to after a ten-plus year hiatus.

Besides, it wouldn't quite be the type of horror I like. Ash became something of a cartoon toward the end of his run. There's nothing wrong with that, but it became pretty clear he could handle whatever the Deadites threw at him. He was a capital-H Hero. Poor, sweet Christine Brown has a much harder time with the supernatural.

Lately I've been kicking around the question of what makes a good final girl and thus far the best answer I can come up with is vulnerability. I think we're all a bit messed up, but most stable people don't spend all their time picking at their emotional scabs. We do our jobs, hang out with acquaintances, and fret over stuff and in general turn a stoic face to the world. When a filmmaker allows us to peer at the cracks of a person and an actor can show the little wounds in a character's soul without being melodramatic or maudlin, that resonates with me. And I really cared about Christine Brown.

The poor girl has clearly taken some lumps in life. We discover that she's had to work against her rural upbringing, that she struggles to conform to her new life, she feels insecure around her WASPy partner's family, and she's had trouble with an alcoholic mother. Any of these topics could have been a terrible made-for-TV movie, but they're only glimpsed at or alluded to, filling out her character naturally.

The other thing I liked about the character was her simple decency. Even when she's at the point of desperation, even when she can pass the curse onto a weak, petty asshole, she refuses to pass her damnation onto another. It's a rare and noble heroism, and it brought to mind comparisons to The Ring's Rachel Keller, who chooses to pass the cursed tape onto a new set of victims. The story is so intensely, intimately focused on the character and Alison Lohman pulls it off. According to my research, Ellen Page originally held the role, but jumped ship for various reasons. I can't quite see her pulling off the character the same way. This is easily one of my favorite performances in a horror film.

As to the scary stuff, it's excited and energetic, an insane carnival ride of jump scares and demonic mayhem. There's a kind of childish lunatic joy in the film making, and it's absolutely infectious. Most movies I've seen, especially the big 'splosion flicks, have a certain mechanical quality to them. The direction seldom stands out, the ‘power chords’ are obvious, and the cinematic quality is, politely, unobtrusive. Here, much like Evil Dead, the camera assaults the characters, bangs off of walls, and generally acts like one of the lunatic Warner Brothers from the old Animaniacs cartoon. It's a lot of fun and it keeps what is essentially a grim story from sliding too deep into darkness.

Also, tangent city here, I think the poster is absolutely lovely. There's a sort of eroticized passion to it that really resonates with me. I'd be proud to own this one.

SPOILER HERE I appreciated the fact that the movie ended on a dark note. The twist ending wasn't particularly twisty, either. Maybe I'm just being a bit OCD, but I would have been SURE the button was in the envelope when I left the car. Still, after caring so deeply for the characters and hoping they'll all pull through, it was brutal to watch Christine dragged into Hell. The final scene stayed with me for several nights afterward.

Anyway, there’s something I wanted to address before I completely shower Drag Me to Hell in flowers and sweet-smelling oils, which is the characterization of Gypsies and Gypsy culture. This one is gonna get personal, so bear with me.

The cursing, prediction-spouting old Gypsy is an old trope of horror fiction. They still show up from time to time, particularly in the underrated Stephen King flick Thinner (oh god, Kari Wuhrer flashing the audience…) When I was a teenager, I read the World of Darkness: Gypsies role-playing supplement. Their fantastical gypsies were romantic nomads and rogues, compelled to travel the world and disdainful of the trapped and banal gaje that I was gonna grow up to be.

As a stupid kid who thought he was more special than everyone else, I absolutely ate that shit up. I read books, listened to music, wore costumes on Halloween, the whole shebang. When I got old enough, I even got a Gypsy caravan tattooed on my back.

Then I travelled through Europe.

The romantic, silk-scarved caravan images I had as a kid quickly got pissed away once I got on the streets of Eastern Europe. Suddenly there are dozens of rail-thin kids scampering around after me, reaching their hands out, and speaking a language completely alien to the environment. Romani prejudice is shockingly open and unapologetic. I saw people spit on, push around, and curse at children and old women. I even saw a couple of Transylvanian cops take an old lady into custody. They weren’t gentle.

I’m not exactly proud of the tattoo anymore. It’s a stereotype, a story, and somewhat grotesque when compared to the lives of actual Romani people. You can probably imagine why I had some discomfort with the movie, even if the Gypsy funeral Christine attends looks like a Gogol Bordello video.

Anyway, that’s just me. Beyond that, it’s good stuff. Go see it.

1 comment:

Penh said...

Yeah, the oncoming twist was obvious the minute she lost track of the envelope in the car, though I should have seen it coming when the button was put in an envelope for no reason at all in the first place. I personally would have rather seen her realize it was missing and have to try to get it back in time instead of having the movie reach its climax and leave me sitting with nothing to do while waiting for the Shocking Twist to be revealed.