Friday, October 15, 2010

Second Chance: Paranormal Acitvity

Unlike many of my fellow horror friends, I first saw Paranormal Activity from the privacy of my own home. After finishing the film I felt what can only be described as a deep sense of disappointment. That was it? I finally see the scariest film of the year and all I get is a couple of footsteps and a glance into the most annoying couple in the world? After this initial viewing I shook off my feelings of disappoint and reasoned that my lack of disinterest had to do with the conditions in which I saw it.

I figured that seeing it in the movie theater would allow for many more scares. The sound being amplified and all would mean that I wouldn't have to lock myself in a closet with my laptop to hear the sound that was evidently suppose to be scary. In addition to the volume being decreased, you've also got a room full of people being scared together. Having other people so close to you, an hearing them react almost causes this weird domino effect--making your skin crawl as well. I was clearly not in a crowded movie theater, and my cat although cute, could hardly be described as petrified. Sleepy more like it.

Yes, I'd say I was doomed from the get go. That is until I noticed that Paranormal Activity was streaming on Instant Watch. I figured the time was ripe for a second chance, what with the sequel coming out and the Halloween season rearing its head. I put in my headphones to block outside noises, and cranked the volume to make sure I heard every footstep and every door creak. After finishing this viewing I came to two very important conclusions: 1.) Paranormal Activity is not very re-watchable and 2.) it totally sucks. Since you aren't just allowed to say something sucks these days without proper explanation, here is some explanation.

1.) Micah is a stain.

Never in my life have I encountered a more annoying character in a horror movie. Keep in mind I've endured some pretty annoying big breasted sluts, and some even more annoying big headed jocks from the bowels of the slasher genre. I understand that horror films have gotten to the point where the characters must be dispensable and that often times we even root for the annoying ones to be picked off. The problem here is that I'm not convinced Micah is suppose to be annoying. Judging by his nurturing, heroic nature, I'm assuming we are suppose to feel grateful for Micah and the "protection" he appears to lend to Katie. Instead what I get, is a man who thinks he is the toughest thing since Chuck Norris' underwear. His decisions and his reactions are not believable. This upsets me since the film is suppose to be entirely believable due to the hand held camera/ found footage thing going on.

My main question is this, who on this earth would witness such supernatural occurrences as Ouija boards catching on fire, demon footprints in baby powder, and loud unexplainable crashes and then say, "IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?! HUH?!"..................... It's a fucking demon dude, you can't bully it. It drove me absolutely insane that one of Micah's main goals was to catch the demon in the act, or worse-to show the demon who was boss.

Perhaps even more frustrating is that Micah is skeptical of the demon's power from the start. A weird attitude that seems to last until SPOILER..............the end. He somehow thinks a psychic is a bunch of baloney, after witnessing an Ouija board catch on fucking fire?

It doesn't make sense. Micah's tough guy attitude, and his insistence that the demon isn't really a threat, is something I just can't get past.

2.) Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

What? Oh sorry, I fell asleep while trying to remember why this movie is boring. The movie is boring, because we are simply waiting around for the nighttime scenes to happen. They have set the movie up in such a way that when we see the night vision camera set up, and the time stamp being sped up--we naturally slouch down in our seats with anticipation. This is a good tactic---but in this instance it, to use a phrase from Micah--seems like it's all they've got. What happens when it's not nighttime? We have to endure the endless exclamations of Katie's worry, Micah's disbelief, and worse---their stupid fights over video cameras. Each segment not filmed in the nighttime is like pulling teeth to me. I almost rather the movie solely be a collage of all the nighttime sequences.

Let's think about the most common thing that happens when they are not sleeping. Can you remember? Well alright, I'll tell you. The most common thing that happens when Micah and Katie are not sleeping is that they are re-watching the footage that we already fucking saw. Yes in a way I suppose it's chilling to hear their reactions to know what was happening while sleeping---but none of their reactions are surprising. Every reaction is, "Oh my god Micah" "Oh!" "Oh my god!". Woohooo. The re-watching of the footage is boring. I saw this happen already. Get back to another nighttime scene, thank you.

3. ) Confusion

I'm confused about something. For some reason I remember the footprints in baby powder being hoofed shape, this time I notice they were more webbed and scary. Either way it doesn't matter because both prints create two very scary images of demons.

Hoofed demon

and scaly webbed feet demon

Both I find equally original and terrifying. Original in this respect--I should add. The "demon" could have just been the presence of what appears to be a human--except of course that it's a demon. Having it actually resembling some kind of biblical goat/scaly creature is actually quite surprising and refreshing.


Aside from the footprints in the baby powder--almost everything else about the demon's presence is very human. The best example I think is the footsteps. You know what those footsteps sound like to me? Feet. Someone wearing shoes walking loudly up the stairs. Wouldn't it have just been amazing, if it was some other worldly sound coming up those stairs? Some crazy, unexplainable, indescribable noise? Take for example the sounds in the attic in The Exorcist. What the hell are those noises? We don't know. Hearing them freaks us out so much because we can't identify the noise. In Paranormal Activity however we can identify that noise--and that noise is feet. Boring loud feet. The noise was probably made by a crew member walking up the stairs. What made those crazy noises in The Exorcist? I have no clue what could possibly make that sound--and THAT is fucking scary.

The second example is the shadow that passes over the door at one point. Man, how I would have loved to see some horns up on that creature. Some abnormally tall being, or even a bad ass mother fucking goat. What I got though, was just a pretty normal head. Hello? You just set up an amazing idea in our heads with the footprints in the baby powder---and now you're giving me a normal looking shadow? Shit's whack!

4.) I got somethin' to say. And I ain't gonna say no more.

In conclusion, I think Paranormal Activity is one of the biggest victims of the hype monster. A lot of people compare it to another film often categorized underneath the hype monster--the Blair Witch Project. The Blair Witch Project for me however has one thing going for it that I feel Paranormal Activity does not. Watch ability factor. I can watch The Blair Witch Project over and over again and still feel marginally creeped out every single time. I get the same chills that I got when I first saw it--possibly even bigger chills after multiple viewings. With this second viewing of Paranormal Activity all I got were yawns. The main scare factor of Paranormal Activity are the sounds. I already know when and where those sounds occur so it's not going to surprise me in the same way that it did initially.

The Blair Witch Project however creates an environment that continues to be scary. The emotions, and the distress level, the hopelessness is so much more apparent in those woods than any time in Micah and Katie's house. I don't believe Micah and Katie's distress. I'm not agonizing over their situation because they are fucking idiots who annoy me. The Blair Witch Project brings a sense of impending doom, and it continues to introduce elements and factors contributing to the scare factor that do not contain the same boring night camera sequence, 3 AM time stamp bull shit.

Fact is this. I do not like Paranormal Activity. I don't care if it revolutionized the horror genre, by making box office history and becoming one of the most profitable films to date. Does that make it a great film? I don't think so. A great film will keep me up at night. It will cause me to close my eyes and picture exactly what it was that frightened me to the very core. When I watched The Changeling, the clanging pipes in my apartment caused me to lose at least a few hours of sleep. When I watched the Exorcist, I stayed up all night in fear I would become possessed. When I watched The Shining, the sound of the water flowing through the pipes sounded like blood rushing out of an elevator. When I watched Paranormal Activity, I also stayed up all night---because I could not for the life me understand why they had such a nice apartment. And also where did Micah find a demonic Ouija board?


Christine Hadden said...

Thank you. I have no love for this film either and think it wouldn't even scare my grandma at the nursing home.

Waiting 70 minutes for someone to get thrown across a room does not a good horror film make.

Also, massive fail for making me nauseous at the theater.

Anonymous said...

You know what, I'm gonna have to agree with you. I watched it in the theater and my anxiety wratcheted up right along with the audience members. Mob mentality is a hard thing to shake. I exited the theater, still hyped up and wrote my blog review.

Saw the film again with my parents and was super pumped to show it to them. Only one thing: it didn't have the same effect and I was left wondering why I liked it so much in the first place. Micah has to be one of the most annoying characters to ever grace a horror film.

Blair Witch on the other hand still brings the heebie jeebies and holds up well to this day.

B.STANK said...

I hated this movie too for all the same reasons. I saw it in the theater and it just pissed me off! After watching the commercials where everyone in the theater is screaming and jumping, there I was bored outta my fuckin gourd!! Most modern horror movies don't scare like the classics did,but as you said...shits whack!!!!!

Andre Dumas said...

Yeeeah Chris! I know you are a big fan of the haunted house films and this just did not fly with me. I felt like it created absolutely no sense of "the willies"

PoT- No doubt the amplified sound was suspect. That's what reaaaaalllly turns me off about this movie. Blair Witch was about the atmosphere of the surrounding woods, and the creepy tales, feelings of desperation etc. Never once did utilize sound as it's main source of fear. If you dissect each crucial scene from PA that typically gets a rise out of people--they can be easily compared to jump scares. Cheap IMO.

Word B. Stank!

The Mike said...

I admit to loving this movie. I can't argue that Micah is a total cock stain, nor can I argue against your fine idea regarding the sounds. But I let it in and got hooked. I'm an easy mark for this stuff, and I was honestly terrified by the practical effects and late night terrors.

B-Movie Becky said...

Awww, I still love Paranormal. And I saw it before it was released, so I can't blame hype. It was in a screening room, but not a theatre, so I'm not sure if that played into it.

Different things scare different people. I found PA to be very scary and obviously the vast majority of people that saw it did too; otherwise, it wouldn't have done what it did in theatres.

I thought Blair Witch was chilling, but find it one of the most unwatchable movies ever for a second viewing. "Shit, we're lost" "Fuck you" "Where's the fucking map?" "I don't fucking know" "Damn. We're still lost" Over and over and over. Just as implausible and annoying as Micah's character is in PA, I found every character in Blair Witch to be annoying and the whole map thing is just stupid. All in all, found footage doesn't seem to be the best sub-genre for re-watchability.

Still, I like Blair Witch and I think it's a great achievement in horror. Similarly, Paranormal deserves some respect for its accomplishments, from a first-time director with a tiny budget. Gotta cut the movies some slack. If Micah didn't provoke the entity, then a lot of tension would be lost. If the kids in Blair Witch didn't fight over every thing, then it would be completely boring. Granted, the best movies come up with ways to achieve tension without bad character motivation, but every movie can't be adapted from an author as brilliant as Blatty.

Sorry I just wrote a book in your comments section...returning to my cave now.

The Fright Writer said...

I'm going to have to disagree. I watched this at home and my nerves were on edge.

Horror is all about that tension and anticipation and this film gives it by the bucket.

It could almost be directly linked to 1940s horror and Val Lewton.

A great chilling film for me because it leaves it to the imagination but, not everybody likes that style. John Carpenter hates it and I'm not one to call such a legend wrong.

Different strokes for different folks I guess.

Andre Dumas said...

Fair enough I would get 3 agreements and 3 disagreements!

All fine points of course and understandable. Different strokes for different folks indeed. I still maintain that without the high volume sounds PA does little to create any true sense of terror. It is a more understated horror and I dig that, I love movies like that---that do it well. Lake Mungo for example is the epitome of film with minimal scare tactics and yet I found I could not breathe for the duration of the film.

I find Blair Witch to be re-watchable because like I said those moments I found creepy still are. I was disappointed that the moments I found to be previously creepy in PA were no longer doing it for me, i.e. when she gets dragged, foot steps in powder and the shadow. I don't know what it is about the surrounding woods and the feeling of being lost that does it for me but there ya have it.

In regards to Micah--and our Blair Witch kids, I never found the BW people to aggravate me the way Micah did. After doing some thinking, I believe this is because their reactions were believable. I'm sorry but no way in hell would someone ever try to challenge a demon like that. If Micah had shown more fear (I mean I know he's a man and all but..) it's possible that the film would have reached me better. The demon could have still gotten aggravated without Micah being dumb and creating tension. He seemed to be aggravated enough simply just because Micah was there in the first place.

And I touched on this a bit in my post, but I'm not going to cut a movie slack because of the conditions of its making. Low budget films are great and all but if I don't like them, then I don't like them! The only standard I judge movies is on if I believe them to be good. Period.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see more people are realizing that the emperor has no clothes when it comes to this movie (all the love it continues to get, I still don't understand). Ugh, what a stinker! What should've been a cool movie was reduced to a douchebag of a boyfriend, and a plot where you keep screaming DO SOMETHING! I'd much rather watch Blair Witch (another movie I despised) than this tripe again.

On a favorable note though, it did give us an awsome Rifftrax...


alesum said...

I take my hat off to the author of this article. Well done.

Blue Seven said...

I love Blair Witch and I like Paranormal Activity a lot. Micah, being a day trader sort of douchebag, is very believable in the role of smug turd who thinks demons are things to be toyed with and controlled. He obviously doesn't give a shit about freaking his girlfriend out either. He's the target audience for Manswers. Demons are just another episode of Ghost Adventures to him, and if he gets footage that's gnarlier than anyone else's footage, then he wins that part of life too, just like he won Katie and his prefab Rancho Penasquitos suburban castle and his giant tv and expensive guitar etc. He feels he is untouchable, but of course he's wrong. The banality of that home's decor is believable and I really enjoyed that this asshat had no idea how scary the thing that he was fucking with actually was. I pretended like this was really happening and I liked it a lot...and when I got home and noticed that my kitchen cabinets were the same as the ones in the movie, that creeped me out properly too.

Sarah said...

I hated this movie. I saw it in the theaters and nearly walked out 9 different times because I was so bored. The other people in the theater weren't too impressed either, as there were people checking their cell phones out in the open, which is not normally done around here in the middle and late portions of movies.

Watching it the second time at home made me hate it more. I don't think Micah is supposed to be likeable. Katie, perhaps. Micah is more of a self-entitled douchebag and a terrible boyfriend.

B-Movie Becky said...

I didn't mean that movies should be cut slack simply because of their budget. Even though I crammed my two points together and it was probably unclear, I was referring to cutting movies (all types) some slack. As in, making characters/plot points occur in an unrealistic/improbable way for the sake of adding more intensity. It's just a part of storytelling and 99% of movies are guilty of it, but that's what makes them more interesting than shooting simple "reality."

I do think PA deserves credit regarding its achievement with the small budget, but you're right, every movie should be judged based on how well it told the story, regardless of its production background.

Just wanted to clarify. =)

Andre Dumas said...

Hehe fair enough Becks, I hear ya. I think Micah's response is just too damn aggravating for me to really enjoy this. That ass.