While I was waiting for it to start, I was eavesdropping (is it eavesdropping when they’re yelling?) on the people in the row behind me. They were what we call: advanced screening regulars.

“I’m so excited ’bout this.” (one hell of a Georgia Peach accent).
“Oh so am I. So am I.”

“Hey do y’all know what twitter is?”
“Yeah I twitter.”
“It’s like a place to chat without email right?”
“Mhm. I thought so. I just don’t know. I think I need to buy a computer.”
“You should, I just love mine.”

It’s not without its entertaining moments – but the movie gets mired in its inbetweeness.At this point someone a few seats over tried to climb down a row and quickly got their foot caught on the back of a chair. An ill-advised move, but they played it off with equally embarrassing complaints about obvious theater design flaws. The movie started to some shrill cheers and a spurt of quick popcorn eating. Opening on an all-too-pleasant country manor was a clear sign that people were going to suffer.

Drag Me To Hell is Sam Raimi‘s “return to horror”. After the Evil Dead series, he dabbled with thrillers (A Simple Plan, The Gift) and then headed up the Spiderman franchise, which is about as horror as a Jonas Brothers concert. Drag Me To Hell has classic jump scares, cursed old witch ladies, a seance, a graveyard scene, and a few disgustingly excessive vomit and eyeball shots, but I was surprised at how much the Justin Long and Alison Lohman relationship looked like Peter Parker and Mary Jane. And that’s where it lost me a little bit. I couldn’t tell if this was Evil Dead 2, some kind of Tales From The Crypt remake, or Spiderman 7. It’s cheeky and self-aware, plainly mainstream, too reliant on conventions, and sells the cursory relationship back story too sincerely.

It’s not without its entertaining moments – a ruthless parking lot brawl, an awful confession about a very cute cat, and a windy as hell channeling-the-dead scene – but the movie gets mired in its inbetweeness. It’s not a throwback b-horror or a summer spectacle, not a homage or a new classic. Despite the plot hinging on a home foreclosure, it’s not timely or relevant in any way and does little to move the genre forward. Nonetheless It makes a genuine and polished effort, especially at getting the visceral sight gags in under the PG-13 rating, and it shows enough promise that Raimi shouldn’t avoid the genre on his next go-round. He can do it, just not this year.

When the movie ended two men walked past me in the row. “It’s too over the top man, you can’t get away with that shit anymore. It worked for Evil Dead but this is 2009.”

Drag Me To Hell is playing now at the AMC Van Ness and the Metreon. More.

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