Sunday, November 1, 2009

Catching up with "Paranormal Activity"

Things are finally slowing down a little bit for me, so I was able to sneak away this morning to catch "Paranormal Activity," the little low-budget horror film that's been making such a huge splash.

It's hard being a horror fan married to someone who absolutely will not watch any movies that are even slightly scary. Even the PG-rated "Poltergeist" tested her limits. I have to sneak off to satisfy my jones for gore.

"Paranormal" was shot (supposedly) for a mere $15,000 in just a week, and is obviously inspired by "The Blair Witch Project," which followed a similar trajectory of stealth indie to mega-hit a decade ago. It takes the form of a documentary edited from found video footage, shot by actors (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) using their real names.

Writer/director Oren Peli takes this conceit to the most extreme, eschewing opening and closing credits for brief announcements. Say this for Peli -- it takes balls to leave your own name off your movie.

I guess I'm just too old or have seen too many horror movies or am just too much of a grump to really enjoy "Paranormal Activity." I've seen all the tricks, and it's very, very hard to make me genuinely scared of a movie.

It doesn't help that the film drags in certain sections, to the point that I was shifting in my seat and checking my watch. It's basically a lot of footage of the couple sleeping in their home as ghostly whispers and thumping noises are heard from time to time.

Of course, they behave in the typical manner of all horror-film characters: Gobsmacking stupidity. Despite the increasing amount of danger presented, they never leave the house where all these threats are emanating. Writing it off by having a psychic show up to say, "Leaving won't help. It'll just follow you" feels like a cop-out.

I don't know about you, but if demonic forces were knocking stuff around my house and leaving footprints next to my bed, I'd hop in my car and see how well he can haunt my ass at 75 mph.

The genesis of this movie is interesting. Peli -- who has no formal training as a filmmaker -- came up with the idea and shot it on a shoestring (his old house served as the set) using non-actors. It was shown at some festivals in 2007, but basically languished, looking for a distributor. A copy made its way to Steven Spielberg's hands, which opened some doors. The original plan was to reshoot a new version, but that plan was scrapped after Peli's original film was shown to some test audiences.

The ending is new, however, and I'm not a particular fan of it. It feels like a compromise to commerciality.

If I were grading "Paranormal Activity" as something I'd seen as a student film or at a small horror film fest, I'd probably give it the benefit of the doubt. But it's now being hyped as the next "Blair Witch" or 'one of the scariest movies of all time,' which oversells it dramatically.

I watched "Blair Witch Project." I knew "Blair Witch Project." "Blair Witch Project" was a friend of mine. "Paranormal Activity," you're no "Blair Witch Project."

2 stars

1 comment:

  1. Ah, but it would be harder to be married to someone whose imagination was so haunted by scary movies that she was afraid to walk the dog in the early hours of darkness every morning.