Atheists at the Movies: Drag Me to Hell
By Jack Caravela
You may be wondering why a group of atheists would choose to see a film titled Drag Me to Hell. The short answer is that the movie’s co-writer and director, Sam Raimi, treats the concept of eternal damnation about as seriously as we do. Mr. Raimi, recently at the helm of the three blockbuster Spider-Man films, decided to return to his roots with his latest offering. Fans of the Evil Dead series which launched the filmmaker’s career will welcome this throwback horror flick, whose first wink to the genre comes before the movie even begins, with the retro Universal Pictures tag (Raimi opted for the rotating Earth logo last seen in the early sixties rather than the modern version).
Our group of about fifteen Minnesota Atheists knew what to expect: lots of hidden perils jumping onto the screen, quite a few disgusting scenes of projectile vomiting of everything from worms to embalming fluid, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor. I’m sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed the film nearly as much if I had seen it alone. While we were all too polite to talk during the film, my neighbors’ nervous starts, averted eyes, and belly laughs made watching Drag Me to Hell into a fun shared experience.
The plot is simple: a young loan officer named Christine Brown, played by a sympathetic and plucky Allison Lohman, declines to extend a foreclosure notice on an elderly woman, who then casts a curse that will send a demon to drag our protagonist down to the depths of hell in three days’ time. To make the moral and ethical issues more interesting, Christine is being considered for a promotion at work, and her male boss has told her that he needs to see evidence that she can make “the tough decisions” in order to consider her. Meanwhile, her competition for the Assistant Manager job is wheedling his way past the more experienced Brown with underhanded tactics. On top of that, the elderly woman Christine turns down is anything but endearing, as we learn she has had two extensions already, has no concept of personal hygiene, and is prone to violent outbursts against anyone who crosses her.
The story proceeds in neat chronological order, as the demonic attacks become progressively worse and Christine enlists the aid of a fortune teller to find a way to lift the curse. During her ordeal, Christine tries to maintain her relationship with her boyfriend Clay, a young psychology professor who is much more likely to accept that Christine is having a mental breakdown than is a victim of a supernatural curse. Throw in a long-planned dinner party with Clay’s ultra-snobby mother while Christine is fighting off invisible monsters, and you have some idea of what our poor heroine faces during the course of the story.
In true old-fashioned horror style, there are multiple false endings (I won’t say how many), and a final twist that caught most of us at least partly by surprise. At no point does Drag Me to Hell turn into a slasher film (it’s rated PG-13); Raimi invests his characters with enough humanity to make us care about them, and he doesn’t dispose of them lightly.
For a movie that those with more refined tastes might dismiss out of hand (although such diverse reviewers as the Onion and the Wall Street Journal were extremely complimentary), Drag Me to Hell provided some interesting conversation topics afterwards. My favorite discussion was about the relative merits of the characters, and whether they deserved their fates. This just goes to show that when a bunch of atheists gather for pizza after a movie, stimulating conversation is bound to happen.
It would be a mistake to claim intellectual aspirations for a movie titled Drag Me to Hell, and I’m sure its director would agree. There are some wildly unlikely scenarios and gratuitous attempts to up the disgust-o-meter readings. Still, I left with the feeling that Raimi did just what he set out to do: make a horror movie to satisfy fans of his early work.