Sam Raimi’s return to horror after Spiderman gave him a big dose of mainstream credibility opens up with a prelude establishing its demonic (and kind of racist) premise: in 1969 medium Shaun San Dela (played here by Flor de Maria Chahua) tries and fails to help a young couple whose son has been cursed after stealing a necklace from a gypsy – a curse which causes the boy to be physically dragged into hell, as the movie’s title promises.
In the present day, loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is angling for a big promotion, and her boss Mr Jacks (David Paymer) drops a hint that what he’s looking for is someone who can make hard-nosed, tough decisions. On top of that, she overhears a conversation between her boyfriend, Psychology professor Clay Dayton (Justin Long), and his mother suggesting that she won’t approve of Christine unless she demonstrates more career ambition, and Christine’s main competitor for the post is Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee), an utter douche who uses shady tactics to make Christine look bad and to suck up to Mr Jacks.
Thus, when Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver), an elderly woman, comes in to request an extension on her loan repayments, and Mr Jacks suggests that this is just the sort of hard choice that he’s thinking of as far as the promotion goes, Christine is more than ready to deny her the extension, even though she knows it means Sylvia will be evicted from her home. (The direction also makes strong suggestions that Christine fines Sylvia’s personal habits physically repulsive, which might colour the way she presents Sylvia’s case to Mr Jacks in the first place.) Pushed beyond her limits, Sylvia curses Christine with the same manner of curse the child from the prelude had. Will four decades of mediumship experience help Shaun San Dela (played in her elder form by Adriana Barazza) beat the curse this time, or is Christine as inexorably damned as the kid in the prologue?