When I first watched Drag Me to Hell I found the experience rather unpleasant, though I thought the film overall was clever, creepy – and disturbingly amusing, as we’ve come to expect from the man who brought us The Evil Dead films.
I left the film feeling very sorry for the protagonist Christine (Alison Loman) and certain that I had just watched a film where a flawed individual is cruelly and unfairly cursed by a vindictive hag.
Imagine my surprise when I read this interview with Raimi, most notably the following comment:
“That’s a good question. I never know if we achieve that balance but I assume that because – – That had a lot to do with the casting of Alison Lohman. She’s really despicable. I don’t mean Alison. [Laughs] Alison’s okay, but she has a very positive charm that works on the audience, that helps us stay with her despite all the terrible things that she does. A lot of people forgive you if you’re good looking too, and Alison is very good looking and has a very nice smile. You get away with a lot I think with that.
But when you think about what he does besides throwing that old woman out of the house, she goes against her own vows and kills that cat to save her neck. She lies to the old woman’s daughter at that house when she tries to get her way and get the old woman to take the curse off her. At the séance, when she’s asked everyone to risk their lives for her, she tries to blame her boss when confronted with the demon that it was really him. She in fact is ready to give that curse to some poor sap at the local Howard Johnson’s or Denny’s. She barely came up with a better idea. She came that close.
I think she was a good person on the outside but when you really start to look at her, when she gets in an extreme situation, the real person comes out. In fact it’s really the old woman that’s the victim in this story and Alison Lohman, I think her character Christine deserved probably what she got. Maybe she was a little over punished. I wouldn’t have been as harsh personally.”
I am baffled by Raimi’s depiction of his own film for quite a few reasons. I’m stunned by the manner in which he both patronises and moralises at his audience.
The first irritating implication is that we sympathise with Christine because she is young, pretty and charming. As opposed to Mrs Ganush who is old and ugly. No. We don’t sympathise with Christine because she is pretty and we are shallow. Nor because we see our own faults within her. We sympathise because she is a flawed, though ordinary young woman in a horrific situation who is systematically humiliated and tortured throughout this film. Her crime? Refusing to extend further credit to the odious Mrs Ganush who has failed several times to make the payments on her house. She has refused assistance. She has a family who can take care of her. Yet she attempts to play upon the sympathies of a young professional woman to enable her to continue to live the way she wants to. Christine works at a bank – not a charity. She does go against her own initial reactions and is pressured by her boss to refuse the old woman’s request. But is there any good reason why she should have?
Do we dislike Ganush simply because she is an ugly old woman? No. We hate Ganush because she is the embodiment of evil. The only sin Christine is guilty of (I’m using Raimi’s own standards of pseudo-Christian morality here) – is lying and failing to extend further charity to a woman unwilling to help herself. Now lets look at Ganush. This old bitch is willing to act as moral arbiter over a young woman. She is willing to curse her to an eternity of torment. Let’s just remember that. She is willing to send this young woman to the Christian Hell because she wouldn’t extend to her a means of staying in a home she cannot afford to keep. So we have pride and we have wrath, also arguable greed and sloth.
I feel as though Raimi has lost sight of the fate he has condemned his character to. Confronted with the prospect of an ETERNITY of agonising suffering – who wouldn’t seek desperately for an escape? Who is Ganush to say she deserves this fate? Who is Raimi to moralise to his audience and say that this fate was deserved. That he dismisses so casually the fate that she is subjected to makes Raimi’s argument fall to pieces. It is BECAUSE Ganush acts out of all proportion, using a power she has no right to dispense so freely that we cannot, must not sympathise with her. She is the villain of the piece, not the victim. If Raimi really wanted to make Christine the villain, he should have written a cleverer story.