Take Star Trek, for example. The movie is below-average at best, some mild entertainment for a day when your sports team is inactive and/or your mental faculties are as well. Yet not even the critics who rated the film the highest-of-the-high could muster enough convincing passionate prose in favor of it. Star Trek's raves rallied around the admittedly impressive abilities of media man JJ Abrams and the way he successfully revived and refashioned a movie franchise that was already crap to begin with; critics confused a good business sense with quality artistry. Star Trek lacked any movie magic.
But here struts in Drag Me to Hell, a film rim-full of wide lens wit, punctuated humor, rhythmic stunts, special effects wisdom, and a sound design that'll blow your ears back. All of this slaps up against the screen between two large title cards that'll close you in and then lock you out after 99 minutes. Raimi's visual ideas hose onto the audience as if he's been pinching them back for 14 years now (and some would say that that's very much been the case). The man is clearly having fun again. After wasting a near decade on three Spiderman films and a Katie Holmes nipple slip, I don't blame the guy.
Overshadowed by the G-rated Grand Guignol (that's a compliment) up on screen is Alison Lohman in the role of Christine Brown, an ambitious loan officer with eyes on an assistant manager position. Lohman's adorable lisp and behind-the-ear blond bangs suit the role of Christine perfectly as she rides the emotional fence of fighting for a promotion and, er, escaping the hooves of the Hades dwelling Lamia that seemingly wants to "swallow her soul". Lohman's presence is comfortable, physically understanding the sight gags and frights that Raimi lines up for her. From hunching over a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream to standing rain wet and chest strong in the grave of the woman who cursed her, Lohman is a non-stop joy to watch.
Of significant special mention should be the implementation of effects by Raimi. Using both CG and the authentic kind, Raimi's heady mix exhibits a lost art understanding of when the use of one or the other is appropriate. There is a tactile cinematic exuberance in seeing real-time goop and gadgets in real light, especially when the scene calls for the aggressively absurd. Seeing a gypsy arm in a prosthetic Alison Lohman head, a toothless gypsy mouth slurp on the chin of a real Alison Lohman head, or a wax-figure gypsy corpse flop on top of a real Alison Lohman body is as important as the most wizardly wicked camera shot.
The final test now lies in how American audiences end up responding to this film. Will Drag Me to Hell, as my wife predicts, be a slow-build box office success and a bleed over DVD smash, or will it simply satisfy geeks for a weekend and fizzle away. Critics responded correctly by almost universally acknowledging the greatness of Drag Me to Hell, but they undercut its arrival onto the scene by also universally laying down for something like Star Trek (as of now, both films are separated by only one point in their Metascores). Drag Me to Hell is an open-window opportunity for bloggers to grab those reins and correct the mistakes their grandpappy print counterparts keep making. Draw those lines!