Wednesday 14 July 2010

Paranormal Persuasion

Paranormal Activity 2009
US Directed by Oren Peli
Icon DVD Region 2

This has those spoiler things in it again... gosh, I think I must be mellowing out to spoiler warnings in my old age. If you haven’t seen this movie you are duly warned!

Now that the time has come when this movie has done all the rounds and has hit the sales and can be picked up in places like Tescos pretty cheaply, I thought it was obviously time for me to re-watch and hopefully re-evaluate Paranormal Activity because my wallet kindly told me that the time was right to do so.

I remember seeing this a couple of weeks before it came out on general release at the cinema where it played as a preview, bizarrely, at my local cinema (although given that my local is a crappy multiplex then it must have been playing in preview at something like the Frightfest way before I saw it is my guess). Anyway, I digress. When I say, I remember seeing it - blah di blah di blah - what I really mean to say is... I remember three specific things about it that stick in my mind... and two of those three were fairly negative.

This is what I remember about it from the first time around...

1. I’d seen the trailer telling me it was the scariest movie since the scariest scarifying things in movies since the dawn of time were scaring up publicity, and I remember sitting in the audience ten minutes before the movie started thinking... Hmmm... this movie is mostly only about two people and it’s mostly limited to their bedroom for most of the action, which is in itself recorded on a video camera as the main plot crutch - not that I have a problem about movies which feature two people in a bedroom shot on video camera... I've seen plenty of those kinds of movies in my time :-). However, there are really not very many ways in which a movie with those parameters could possibly end when you come to think of it, are there? So, I figured rationally to myself, the girl will get “taken over” by the ghost/poltergeist/or demon or whatever this is at the end and probably kill her lover and then, since this is the 21st Century now and the filmmakers will feel necessary to give the less subtle, dumbed down teeny horror demographic of the audience (which to be fair to them is who they’re aiming at anyway) an extra jolt, they’ll probably have her/it coming for the camera as the last part of the last shot.

2. My “scariest” horror movie is the old 1963 Robert Wise adaptation of The Haunting (based on Shirley Jackson’s excellent novel, The Haunting of Hill House) and so, frankly, Paranormal Activity was not the least bit scary to me and I was quite surprised that all those old, formulaic and cliched things they were doing in it was being not only accepted but was actually doing its job on the audience in question.

3. I remember the audience I was with, which was packed with groups of teenagers, getting really frightened and yelling helpful tips to the characters at the screen. And that’s where I got my entertainment from Paranormal Activity the first time around... incredulously watching the audience reaction going on around me. About three quarters of the way through the movie, one young lady, and I have never seen such a violent reaction to a movie in my life before this, actually ran from near the front of the audience, literally screaming loudly out of her mind in terror as she fled for the exit. And I mean ran. I couldn’t move that fast if I wanted to!

But for all that negative stuff, it didn’t fail to impress me. Why? Because if you can juggle all those cliched, stock horror tricks around and still scare an audience to that level... then you know what you are doing with film, to a certain extent (in much the same way that the original version of The Descent used all those same old cheap tricks... but that one actually did scare me too. Just not as much as The Haunting in its 1963 incarnation.).

Looking at it on DVD was a much more serene experience in terms of audience reaction... the two people I was with didn’t find this one scary either... but then neither are they likely to see their teenage years again.

I think the thing that disappointed me most about the movie was that I was absolutely right about the way the film was going to end. You could see it coming a mile off (in my case just from watching the trailer and thinking about the limitations of the crew) and it will be interesting to see if the upcoming sequel will be able to give us a different kind of ending to the one we’ve already seen in the first one... in much the same way as that other fairly recent “first person shooter camera eye” movie [REC 2] was able to successfully build on the first movie and give us a hopeful set up for a third installment.

I probably shouldn’t be so harsh about the ending of the movie... the DVD also has the option of watching it with an alternative ending and it’s clear that, while in the alternate version the movie has a more definitive ending and sense of closure for the film, it wasn’t as sequel friendly as the ending it was released with and I suspect, once the film was cut together and tested with an audience, the producers could already feel that sense of “ker-ching” in the air and wanted a franchise possibility.

Either way, it makes no difference to me why they did it because, as obvious as the end of the movie is... I think they chose the right one to finish their film with.

Would I recommend picking up Paranormal Activity as a DVD purchase? Well probably not unless you have a lot of friends dropping by all at once. This is a film where you need to be part of a larger audience if you want the frights and creepy overtures of the characters to take full effect on you. Paranormal Activity is definitely an activity which is best undertaken as a collective experience.

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