Saturday, October 24, 2009

Paranormal Activity (Review)

      I (finally) got to see "Paranormal Activity" this Friday, at a midnight showing, at the Alamo Drafthouse.  In doing so, I gave this movie the best chance I could of actually scarring me.  At the Drafthouse, I am virtually guaranteed there won't be anyone breaking the tension by talking or yelling something during a tense moment, or other such sophomoric activities that you are likely to get at a regular theater.  Unfortunately, the movie did that its self.

     "Paranormal Activity" has been advertised as some kind of underground phenomenon.  During its first weeks of showings, it played only to midnight audiences.  Much of the hype around it was word of mouth.  It is being advertised as "one of the scariest movies of all time.*"(*note the poster on your right)  Perhaps it works a little bit better at midnight showings, where you don't know what to expect, and you haven't seen commercials or trailers, but now that the secret is out, and the trailers I've seen contain most of the movie's creepier moments, the experience falls a bit flatter than it should.  Maybe it will work better on DVD, just you and a loved one you want to scare, or a small group of friends who have never heard about it, but large groups of people in theaters who know what they are in for disarm some of the scare of "Paranormal Activity,"

     Over-hype isn't the only problem with this film, however.  The concept its self seems very strong.  The way that the creepy moments are shown in digital camera 'reality vision', so to speak, make them seem real and visceral, however, there was no need to shoot the rest of the movie in the same, shaky, reality style.  That tends to be the failing of every one of these Blair Witch clones.  There is no real reason for someone to STILL be filming EVERYTHING that is happening.  ("Cloverfield" is a prime example.  Put down the camera and RUN!!!)  The attempted explanation of the continual filming also tends to ring hollow.  I think the film would have really worked if the scary moments were all on digital camera, making them seem very real, and the rest of the movie were just that, a movie. 

     The main failing of "Paranormal Activity", however, is the idiot boyfriend, who, in the end, deserves what comes to him.  I'll elaborate.  "Paranormal Activity" is a kind of found footage movie.  There are a couple of lines of text at the beginning, no logo or credits, the movie just starts.  The movie is made up of footage from one digital camera that a couple, Katie and Micah, played by on one you're likely to know, has purchased to document odd occurrences that happen to Katie as she sleeps.  Now, if both people were sane, rational individuals, this movie could have been very frightening, because you could empathize with them.  You might internalize what is happening and imagine that it could happen to you.  For a moment, you could get lost in their reality, suspend disbelief, and feel what they feel.  Sadly, you can't do this, because Micah, is an idiot.  He thinks everything that's happening is cool.  He is excited to get it all on camera and actively tries to provoke more occurrences.  To a point, I was still with the movie.  I could see that happening.  However, when the occurrences did begin to accelerate and intensify and when Katie, who has been dealing with these types of things ever since she was eight years old, begins to mentally break down, he should have stopped.  They should have consulted the expert recommended by the first paranormal investigator who predicted everything that happened up to that point.  Instead, Micah continues ahead, fueled by an inability to see the obvious and an overblown male bravado, and the film degrades into one of those horror movies that beg you to yell at the screen just to relieve your own frustration at the apparent stupidity of the characters.  In the end, I didn't feel scared.  I felt sorry for Katie and I felt like Micah deserved his fate. 

     I understand the premise behind "Paranormal Activity."  The fact that it's all supposed to look so very real, like a tape you found out in the woods or cans of old film in the attic, but its been done, so the shock value is gone, and you are not actually filming reality, so you still need to pay attention to your characters and their development.  Personally, I recommend waiting a year or so, finding a copy on DVD, and trying to scare a few close friends with it, but I wouldn't bother seeing it in theaters now.  The moment has passed.

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