We went to check out this super hyped no budget sensation as part of the Halloween Horror challenge.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007)
D. Oren Peli
1.85 DV shot 16X9
The hot horror ticket of the season because of really clever internet based hype is for good reason being compared to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Just like that movie, this was MADE a hit because of the marketing, otherwise it would have been just another tiny little horror film that would have fallen through the cracks and no one would have given two shits about. By saying that I am not commenting on the quality of the movie in anyway. But if this movie has simply been unleashed directly to DVD, it would not have found a huge audience. Fans would have ignored it, mainstream audiences would NEVER under any circumstances give it a chance. The phenomenon going on here is strictly a hype based thing. This whole "going wide into more theaters because the FANS demanded it" thing? I'm calling bullshit in that. The studio always planned to go wide, otherwise they would have never bothered to spend the money to reshoot the ending, to make those viral video trailers of audiences "reacting" to how scary it was and putting out so much web support for the thing. The whole come and vote for it to come to your city and play thing was a ruse to make people think they played a role in getting it seen, to make them feel like they were involved in saving this "little movie that could". It is a VERY smart bit of advertising and marketing. Especially considering the movie itself cost dick to make, and probably cost next to nothing for the studio to pick up. Probably cost at least the original shooting budget (probably three times as much I would wager) to reshoot the ending, and then the whole marketing probably was a pretty penny. But all said and done, I still bet they never cracked the million dollar mark by a long shot on this movie and are raking in the dough. If the studios are smart, they'll start looking at low budget movies as an alternative way of making some quick cash in the theaters.
The problem is that the final movie here is simply not as good as all this hype would have you believe. There's a shock, huh? It's not a bad movie either. Just at the end of the day it's average at best. We're given some stand out scenes that are incredibly tense and scary, but they're undermined by mechanical storytelling and a consistent refusal to take the movie in a direction that shows us honest characters and situations. As it is the situations are scary, until you think about them on an emotional and human level, and you find yourself thinking no rational or sane human being would do these things when in this situation. Then the credibility goes flying out the window.
The story, for the few of you that don't know, is about a couple named Katie and Micah (played by actors named Katie and Micah as this whole enterprise is played off as a real event) that are experiencing a haunting in their San Diego home. So to document the experiences Micah has bought an expensive video camera and plans to shoot as much of their lives as possible in hopes to catch whatever is going on on video. The have a spirit medium over to help them investigate and we learn that this haunting has been happening to Katie since she was eight years old and has followed her from home to home all her life. But things have gotten worse since she has moved to where she is now. Micah is skeptical and seems only interested in getting something on tape that could make them famous. The medium explains to them that he thinks they do not have a haunting, but a demon in the house that potentially wants to hurt them and, furthermore, any negativity from them will only feed its anger and rage. He then says he will help get them a demonologist to help, but to sit tight until then. Micah, unfortunately, seems to get a thrill out of being a dick and proceeds to incite the incidents to happen, no matter what kind of emotional state it puts his girlfriend into. The "activities" begin to escalate from doors slamming, to sheets moving, to Katie sleepwalking and going into trances, to her being pulled out of bed and down the hall. It becomes clear things are getting worse when Micah gets a Ouija board to contact the demon, something Katie forbade and the medium said absolutely not to do. In a scene so silly that it could be in a Ted V. Mikels movie (no disrespect to Ted), the board comes to life while they're gone and writes some stuff in fire on itself. After that, the the really bad haunting begins. Oddly enough, Micah still seems unaware of how bad things really are, even though he's seen it all on the footage he's shot.
Which brings us to one of the movie's biggest problems; Micah's continued reactions. I understand his dickish behavior is supposed to be feeding the demon and provoking it, but that only works as a plot device and not as a realistic motivation. His character seems to be motivated by greed and cockiness, and never, ever seems to be taking the events as serious or realistic enough to be concerned for his girlfriend. By the midpoint of the movie, any real live-in boyfriend would have put the camera down and brought in the demonologist. They had seen enough evidence to get on with it. Concern for your loved one's well being should have taken over by then and really kicked in. But the film is so concerned with getting them back into the bedroom, asleep with the camera on them, that it constantly forsakes logic and character rationale to do so. I felt like punching the characters more than a few times, getting to the point where I seriously didn't care if Micah got killed or not. It also takes them three fourths of the movie to freakin' google the damn things happening to them online! Jesus, most people would do that shit the very next day!
I also felt like the pacing of the movie was way off as well. The first third is almost all exposition, which is fine with me. I actually enjoyed all that stuff. But when the scenes of the actual haunting begin they're drip fed to us pretty sparsely, followed by a fade out to the next morning at which the characters watch them again on the monitors for replay. So it is action, fade out, instant replay, then followed by arguing, begging, arguing, then all over again. There is no build up to the haunting scenes. They should be one upping each other, but instead they don't really. One will be relatively creepy but mild, then the next one will be the spirit crawling under the covers with her. Then the next will be just it standing next to the bed whispering. Instead of a progression upward, it is up, and then down and then up again in the scare factor. It doesn't ratchet it up and up and up like it should. Not to say those scenes are NOT effective; they are intensely effective in their own right. Each of those scenes in the bedroom are very creepy and downright unsettling. They are playing on our primal fears of being alone in the dark, being helpless while we sleep, and the fear of something malevolent after we die, but they simply need to be better structured.
The ending just blows it, though. As I stated before, the ending was reshot for the new theatrical release - actually at the behest of Steven Spielberg himself, who said the movie needed more punch in the tail. The original ending was more subtle and creepy, and in a way more mean and depressing. This is just a CARRIE or THE GRUDGE style shock ending that is ultimately kinda meaningless, but leaves audiences walking out talking about how scared they were. In fact, it has most people out not remembering anything that happened in the preceding 90 minutes, but just that something jumped into the camera in the last ten seconds making them jump ten miles high.
I'm sounding really hard on this because I had high hopes for it, I think. There is a great movie in the core of this. The lead actress is very good (her huge breasts and very shapely behind surely didn't hurt matters any) and the lead dude is alright given his weak material. But the let down is the script that keeps going back to whorey cliches, instead of sticking to the stuff that is working at the heart of the movie. But then again, the movie that I envision in my head around this same premise would NOT be the huge hit this one is. In fact, it would be the move that no one would ever see, that would go direct to DVD and get ignored by fans, and the mainstream media would never, ever hear of at all. Because something that strives to be more than this is not marketable to the masses the way this was. And that is the whole truth of the matter.
Original Trailer from 2006
The BS trailer that suckered America in...
And here is one of the original endings, before the studio chimes in...
And another ending too..
Reviews © Andy Copp