Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity is just another example in a long (and sure to continue) string of documentary styled horror movies. This movie came almost exactly a decade after The Blair Witch Project kicked off the whole idea. Yes, I know movies like Cannibal Holocaust were made long before that, but really Blair Witch was the first enormous one. Blair Witch begat movies like Rec and its remake Quarantine, as well as big budget derivations such as Cloverfield. None of this genre's offspring, including Paranormal Activity, have even come close to impact of 1999's original.

Paranormal Activity tells the simple story of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, a couple settling into a new house. It's been revealed that Katie has been haunted by a demonic force her entire life. This prompts Micah to buy several video cameras, and thus the movie is born. Like its predecessors, this movie is billed as "found footage." This footage (depending on in what country you see the movie) offers little more than things moving in the night, and a couple's relationship crumbling on camera.

This certainly had potential. Forgoing big scares in favor of a creepy realistic atmosphere, and genuine emotional tension could be a recipe for huge success. Unfortunately that emotional tension was not very genuine. A movie like this depends wholly on whether it can sell that this is actually happening to these people. If that doesn't work, the movie doesn't work. And unfortunately, it didn't work. At no point did I stop being aware that this is nothing but a movie.

This problem may be that this idea can no longer support an entire movie. Paranormal Activity had a slew of genuinely heart pounding moments. Drawn out shots of the couple sleeping, that culminate with nothing more that the movement in their bedroom door will leave you drenched with sweat. These shining moments are countered, however, with absurd shots like a Ouija board catching on fire.

Some of the more promising moments made for a great viral marketing campaign. This raises the question about why some of these movies have more compelling advertising than the movies themselves. The marketing for Quarantine was far better than the movie it was promoting. These film makers can take note of phenomena like this year's genuinely frightening "Slender Man" videos on youtube (search "MarbleHornets"). Short ambiguous clips can prove to be far scarier than an entire movie. Paranormal Activity was extremely close to being a good scary movie. It had tremendous potential, but ultimately tried to stretch its concept too far, which undermined what could have been a terrifying premise.


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