Thursday, October 15, 2009
You may have heard about this big-little film by now called Paranormal Activity that is inching its way across the United States leaving some apparently impressed viewers in its wake. I know I was with two of them this evening. The film was shot/produced/distributed on a bare bones budget, and it is almost virally becoming very popular. Word of mouth seems to be going a long way with this movie.
But I guess I am here to try to explain why the film did not do much for me at all. And maybe I'm trying to sort it all out for myself as well.
My relationship with Paranormal Activity is a very short, love/hate one. Less love and more "hey that was kinda cool"... and less hate and more indifference to maybe a little dislike. Most of the negative here really isn't even technical.
I will be the first to admit that when it comes to new films (despite this one being made in 2007 evidently), I have not been keeping up very well. I'm pretty ignorant to trailers and hype lately unless someone sits me down and points my nose in the right direction. Look at my blog this month and you'll see where most of my movie-attentions have been targeted for quite some time.
As with Trick r' Treat, It wasn't until the past couple weeks I think that I even heard about this. So when my wife came to me excited about the film last week, and we decided to see it tonight with a friend, I was going in not really knowing what to expect. The rumblings I had heard were that it was really good or something, that it was hardly distributed or something, and that it had no budget... or something.
Oh, and that it was filmed largely first person with a hand-held camera.
Herein lies my first issue with the film.
But let's get the good stuff out of the way first. While the presentation is not the most unique by this time in the horror-timeline, I think it was one of if not the best way to handle the film. A slick movie about a similar subject would just be another haunting story, and those seem to be a dime a dozen. This realistic representation of the subject matter does an OK job at making you part of this couple's struggles with this entity in their home.
Another thing I thought was impressive was the way the special effects were handled. The fuzzy camera, especially at night, goes a long way to mask any flaws that may have arisen in any CG (there does not seem to be much, and the actual physical effects play well also. There were a couple genuinely creepy elements in there that were impressive.
But then there were the things that did not work for me. I won't really go in depth with technical problems I had... or the "genre questions" you really aren't supposed to ask (Why doesn't she just do this?), but some acting took me out of the story at times, as did some decisions and coincidences that probably didn't need to be there in the first place.
My large issues with the film (FINALLY) were purely personal.
The first person hand held camera thing for me does not work because I get very motion sick. VERY. I spent big chunks of this movie with my eyes squinted or even closed to avoid getting ill. I have never even seen Blair Witch for this reason. It took me two days to finish Cloverfield. I know this is not exactly a fair criticism of the film, and I realize that it probably kills what shred of credibility I even bring to a review, but unfortunately this is the case for me. I wish there was a way to portray the sense of immersion such a filming technique can provide without actually USING that filming technique.
My other personal issue was that I did not buy this movie in any way. Some people will, and people obviously do... the two people with me did. But I felt no connection with the plight of these characters nor did I believe anything that was going on. That is not exactly fair as it is a movie, but there is something I can compare it to because the presentation is similar.
I loved [REC], and I had to suspend belief for it. At times it was over the top, and I felt a true sense of tension at some of the craziness going on. Granted it is not a haunting story, but it is also told immersively in first-person and hand held. (I guess I benefited from watching this one on a smaller screen.)
What [REC] did for me differently was keeping my tension high. I doubt anything like the events in [REC] could ever happen, but even if they could, that is not what I take from the film. That's not how I enjoy horror films. The realistic elements of it are mixed with gore and jump-scares and moments where you really aren't sure what is going to happen to the characters and it eats you alive. Feeling like it could happen to me is not why I like the supernatural horror films that I do.
I felt like Paranormal Activity almost requires this of its viewers. Because it is presented near-documentary style band is at the same time subtle in it's tension, a viewer who feels that maybe later when they go home this same thing might happen to them will be affected as the film makers intended. Paranormal Activity covers a subject I am not frightened by, I do not believe, nor am I all that interested in. (I know, I know... why did I even see it?)
For a subject like the one covered in this film, I guess I'm a bit of a simpleton. Maybe I need the GOTCHA scares? Maybe a slicker presentation for a haunting story is what it takes for me. With what affects me and what does not, a ghost/haunting story needs to be fun. Paranormal Activity is not fun.
As Levar Burton would say, don't take my word for it. By all means, go see it! It probably deserves your money. Go jump and gasp and pee your pants.
I'll stick with Poltergeist.