One of my bigger gripes about the path of modern horror films is that the rise of a memorable monster in the slasher genre has resulted in a tendancy to make the victims of said monster/killer so annoyingly unpleasant, that you kind of root for the monster/killer to succeed.
This is not entirely new. Many horror films over the decades would have one or two characters who functioned as natural villains that persecute the central hero. And their mistreatment of others often resulted in their demise. But now, almost anyone who dies is a relentless jerk. The charactes tend to be inhumanly selfish, greedy, amoral and willing to disgard people like trash. Even the heroes. Whether it is a movie like Valentine or the recent Friday the 13th remake, characters either are so light in presentation (vague druggie/nerd, cool guy, jock, hot girl, etc) as to make no connection to the viewer or such a terrible cad (verbally/physically abusive, cheater, rapist, etc) that the adience does not care to root for him.
I think this is one of the things that I liked most from Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell. Alison Lohman’s Christine Brown is a likeable, if mousey, character. She is introduced to the audience listening to a self help tape to encourage property speaking. She is struggling to move forward in her job as a loan officer in a bank. We soon learn from her boss (David Paymer) that while she is a good employee, she may tend to being to sympathetic to the sorrier cases. She is hoping to advance into an open management position that her boss makes clear is for the person willing to make the tough choices.
Which leads to a dilemma in which Christine finds herself in for the story. When an elderly woman (Lorna Raver) enters and asks for her third extension so as to not lose her home, Christine makes the tough call. The old woman put’s a curse upon her. But the thing is, the curse is hardly equal to the crime. Christine’s choice is also an understandable one. It’s not done out of evil or malice. And it makes her sympathetic. You want to see her avoid the terrible fate that awaits her.
It is rather funny to me that a movie that could have gotten away with making Christine an awful and unsympathetic character, simply on the basis of being a gore comedy, instead went the route of making the punishment far worse than the crime. Drag Me To Hell works simply as an over the top horror comedy in Sam Raimi’s absurdist style. But it is extra icing that you get to fret and worry about whether or not you lead will be successful or not.
Many filmmakers would have taken the cheap and easy route of making her far less sympathetic. Sam and his brother Ivan chose the better and more interesting path. A path I would like to see visited a bit more in the genre of horror.