The XX Factor

Drag Me To Hell Presents A Puzzle for Feminists

When it opens this weekend, I hope a lot of XXers will go see Drag Me to Hell , the new Sam Raimi horror movie, so we can discuss it here. In addition to being (I thought) a satisfying two hours’ worth of alternating laughs and screams, it’s a very rich text about female power. So rich, in fact, that I’m not sure yet exactly how to read it. The heroine, Christine, a young bank loan officer played by Alison Lohman, denies an old Hungarian woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) an extension on her mortgage payment, and as a result, the old woman stands to lose her home. Mrs. Ganush, a practitioner of the dark arts, puts an ancient curse on Christine: she will be haunted by horrific visions for three days, at the end of which time she’ll be snatched down to hell by the devil himself.

A battle ensues between the two women that takes place on both the physical and metaphysical planes: They slug it out in a parked car, an open grave, and assorted spooky venues suspended between this world and the next. What sets this movie apart from your average slasher thriller is the main character’s fierce rejection of victimhood; she’s a pretty girl in danger, yes, but also an ambitious career woman who morphs over the course of the movie into a fierce (and at times unscrupulous) warrior fighting for her own soul. The cronelike Mrs. Ganush is unmistakably the villain, but she’s deeply sympathetic in her way. She’s not a hockey-masked chainsaw-wielder but an immigrant grandmother who begs on her knees to be allowed to keep her house and who, when wronged, resorts to the only power she can command: Satan. I also loved that the film’s men, Christine’s puppylike boyfriend (Justin Long) and her palm-reading spiritual adviser (Dileep Rao), were relegated to the loyal-helpmate positions traditionally reserved for girls in B-movies (just think of Bryce Dallas Howard in Terminator: Salvation , standing by her man.)

But an equal and opposite reading of the movie might see it as antifeminist and even misogynist, a punishingly negative allegory about female ambition. Christine denies the old woman a loan because she has her eye on a promotion at the bank. In exchange for choosing to prioritize her job over human relationships (ie., for not being “nice” to the old woman), she is literally damned to hell, while her even more unscrupulous male colleagues get off scot free. In this second reading, the crone character, with her wizened face and icky false teeth, would be an expression of the filmmaker’s (or the audience’s) fear of the aging female body. The message to viewers would then be: Old women are unacceptable at all times. Beautiful young blondes get a pass, as long as they act nice and don’t get too many ideas about getting ahead.

I won’t reveal whether or not Christine suffers the fate threatened by the movie’s (awesomely pulpy) title. But if you do see it, please drag yourselves back here to talk about it next week.