Today someone posted a snarky comment on my old review of the Kristin Scott Thomas film I’ve Loved You So Long. This caused me to re-read what I’d written, and guess what, snark or not, my opinion hasn’t changed: it’s four-fifths of a great movie, followed by one-fifth of a lousy one.
But that lousy one-fifth is right at the end; it’s what stays in your mind when you leave the theatre. It’s too bad that more websites don’t do what Slate does in its occasional feature called Spoiler Specials – that is, offer critical analysis of a recently-released film without eliding the most salient details of the plot. I would love to see a Spoiler Special on I’ve Loved You So Long – I’d be curious to see if anyone else agrees with me about the lameness of the ending.
Yesterday I saw another movie that you really can’t discuss without giving away how it ends – so if you haven’t seen Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell, please go away now.
Slate blogger Jonah Weiner calls the “cruel reversal” of the final scene “worthy of O. Henry”, which is maybe true, but O. Henry wouldn’t have telegraphed it quite so blatantly: imagine a version of The Gift of the Magi in which Della’s haircut is intercut with a shot of Jim standing outside a pawn shop, fingering his gold watch in a thoughtful manner.
In Drag Me To Hell, the cruel reversal in question is the substitution of Christine’s gypsy-cursed button (conveniently sealed in a plain white envelope) for a rare coin that she’d given to her boyfriend (sealed, natch, in an identical envelope). Driving home from an unsuccessful exorcism, Christine’s possessions get jumbled up with the contents of the boyfriend’s briefcase on the floor of the car; she digs around, panic-stricken, for her misplaced MacGuffin, and seizes the wrong envelope, thereby sealing her fate. Raimi makes little attempt at misdirection. From that point on it’s pretty obvious where the story has to go.
Should I deduct points for the weakness of the coin-button swap? (How would I have done it more elegantly? Perhaps there could have been a bit more uncertainty about the identity of the accursed object. What if it turned out that the button Christine thought had been dropped into her pocket by the gypsy was just an innocent spare button, while the actual cursed button had been secreted somewhere else in her clothing?) I’m not sure if the setup makes much difference. While I wish the switcheroo had been executed with a little more dexterity, I can’t think of any way that the climax could be improved on. It’s simply one of the scariest, ballsiest endings in a horror movie, ever. And then that final shot of Justin Long’s face, as his terrified gaze drifts from the scene of his girlfriend’s final moments on earth to the ticket-to-hell still clamped between his trembling fingers, and then – whammo! – cut to title. What a kicker.