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Even Sam Raimi’s PG-13 Horror is a Jarring Gut Punch

Be careful who you piss off.

Written by Debopriyaa Dutta
Originally Published: 
Universal Pictures
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After delighting comic book fans with his beloved Spider-Man trilogy in the early 2000s, Sam Raimi revisited his horror roots with Drag Me To Hell, a deceptively simple morality tale with a gut punch of an ending. A particularly gnarly brand of supernatural horror is sprinkled throughout, crafted in a manner that feels intense and jarring despite the film’s PG-13 rating. Relying on well-timed atmospheric spooks and extreme body horror, Raimi spins a story so tense that the audience feels rooted in Christine Brown’s (Alison Lohman) experience as she battles shame, guilt, and nightmarish terrors right up till the fiery end.

A vacant position in the company Christine works for as a loan officer is the catalyst for the ensuing chaos, as our protagonist is forced to wade through cutthroat office drama and thinly veiled sexism to prove her worth in the workplace. A sudden push from Christine’s boss (David Paymer), who asks her to be more assertive if she wants the new position, leads her to deny a mortgage extension to an old woman named Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver).

Denying Mrs. Ganush was not Christine’s first instinct. She empathizes with the woman’s situation and tried to arrange another extension, but had to make the difficult decision once she realized her promotion hinged on it. When Mrs. Ganush begs her to reconsider, Christine is visibly conflicted, profusely apologizing for her inability to assuage the situation. This is when Mrs. Ganush angrily proclaims Christine will pay for shaming her, and the latter finds herself cursed after a terrifying altercation with the woman in the parking lot.

Christine’s world is completely destabilized, as she has to contend with fresh waves of hell until the demon Lamia claims her soul. Sinister forces yank her around, vile liquids are poured into her mouth, and her waking nightmares are marked with crawling bugs and terrifying shadows. Her well-meaning boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long), doesn’t quite believe her, and chalks her travails up to stress and mental fatigue, while Christine is left to deal with intense personal and professional humiliations.

Raimi injects a sense of dizzying kineticism into these harrowing sequences, where the camera lingers on her ominously right before she’s strangled or thrown around, emerging as an unseen sinister force similar to those in his Evil Dead movies. While there’s a noticeable absence of gore, this doesn’t stop Raimi from indulging in narrative and visual extremes, as a young woman is constantly shamed for a decision that doesn’t even begin to represent who she truly is. While Christine makes some morally questionable choices, such as sacrificing her cat out of fear and desperation, she still emerges as a figure worth rooting for, as her punishment far outweighs her sins.

Christine in a rare moment where her suffering isn’t too gross.

Universal Pictures

There’s more than meets the eye in Raimi’s handling of this cautionary tale, as Christine’s journey is an intimately uncomfortable exploration of the shame that manifests in every aspect of her life. Belittled for her financial and social status by Clay’s parents and constantly measured against an impossible standard in a workplace where co-workers are more than willing to cheat their way to success, Christine has to wrestle with her own demons apart from Lamia, whose presence exacerbates her dwindling self-esteem and social struggles. When she digs up Mrs. Ganush’s grave to combat her curse, the moment feels climactic and empowering. Christine Brown has had enough, and she deserves to learn from her mistakes without paying a deadly price.

This brings us to the surprising, brutal ending, where Christine is literally dragged into the bowels of hell after what amounts to a technical error in her curse-fighting. It’s tempting to call such a fate sudden, or even mean-spirited, but Drag Me To Hell earns it after setting up everything to work towards this precise, uncompromising juncture. The sense of security we felt alongside Christine was bound to be shattered when Raimi fulfilled the promise staring us right in the face all along.

The film’s tagline chillingly states, “Christine Brown has a good job, a great boyfriend, and a bright future. But in three days, she’s going to hell.” This claim is unflinchingly delivered, emphasizing the dear cost of betraying oneself for even a moment, something that can happen to any of us.

Drag Me to Hell is streaming on Netflix.

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