***Update: Win tickets to Paranormal Activity now!***
Did anybody hear that?? If you heard eerie sounds coming from the Arclight Theater in Hollywood last night – don’t be frightened – it was just the insufferable moans of a disappointed audience leaving the midnight screening of Paramount Pictures’ latest marketing experiment Paranormal Activity. I think everyone was rooting for writer/director Oren Peli, an Israeli-born game-developer turned fledgling filmmaker who made the horror flick just inside of two weeks and $15,000, but it’s a difficult movie to get behind.
The camera-in-hand, home video style film made its debut in 2007 at Austin Texas’ Screamfest film festival and it probably should have not gone much further without major modification. It’s not wretched enough to keep out of a festival, but it really should have not made the big screen quite yet.
Rumor has it that when a copy of the film was in Stephen Spielberg’s possession, his bedroom door mysteriously closed and locked itself. He was reportedly so spooked, that when returning the film to the studio he carried it in a black plastic bag. I’m not quite sure which chapter of “ A Field Guide to Demons” indicates that black hefty bags contain or repel evil – but for better or worse, the anecdote is working.
Paranormal Activity is the story of a young San Diego couple trying to get to the bottom of strange household disturbances that seem to happen only while they are sleeping. They call in a psychic who defines for them the difference between ghosts (relatively benign entities grounded in human behavior) and Demons (non-human beasts who know no bounds.) He determines that their particular brand of trouble is, in fact, demonic. One would expect then, something sort of behavior on its part beyond a pesky poltergeist but nothing more drastic really played out. The psychic warns the two not to invite trouble by calling on the demon, but Micah, the gadget-obsessed boyfriend who just doesn’t listen, sets up a camera in the bedroom hoping to find something good.
- Writer/Director: Oren Peli
- Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs’, Amber Armstrong, Ashley Palmer
- Hmmmm…: The Arclight Theater has a wonderful gift shop.
- Marketing Chops: You just have to respect Paramount for creating such a buzz for such a below average film from an unknown filmmaker. Steven Spielberg’s story is more compelling than the film itself.
- Run Time: I am grateful that it didn’t run over 90 minutes.
- The Acting: Quite possibly the worst leading actress I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t help a horror film when you are rooting for the demon; half the time I was hoping that it would kill the couple and move to a house with better actors. It is usually not of paramount importance to have great acting for the purposes of a horror movie, but the performances here were so bad that they detracted from any ability to be frightened. Also, it was a subtle horror movie, relying on psychological fear over blood-and-guts, a nuanced performances was the only way for it to work, and this film didn’t have it.
- The Story: Even if this film were to be categorized as “campy” or “cult” the story is so incongruent that one can’t but to feel lost in the confusion. Things just don’t add up when you really think about them and I see the ending as one of those cop-out tricks devised to try and justify the rest of the film.
- The Fear Factor: I like to be scared to the core – not shocked into paying attention. There are moments where you tend to jump – but it is more like the cheap thrill you get from a haunted hayride or haunted house. You are left with nothing long-lasting and disturbing, you are just glad that it’s over so that no one is trying to rudely startle you anymore
- The “Fantastic Fest” method of presentation: Before the film, the hosts from the group coordinating the free screening (Austin’s “Fantastic Fest”) make a Billy Mays style live request for audience members to go online and “demand” the film be shown in their area. As if that weren’t annoying enough, they have a second request in the form of a preview. Why are you showing us a preview? W are the people in a town where it was already here to see it! Don’t spoil it for us! Secondly, while there is nothing wrong with making people aware of this option, begging repeatedly is a sure sign that the success of this film relies wholly on internet buzz.
- Lack of Originality: The LA Times used the word “original” and try as I might, I couldn’t conjure anything original about it. Each haunting was quite like all the others we have seen and the format was a direct descendant of The Blair Witch Project.
Peli does show us that he has vision, tenacity and the ability to generate some level of suspense. There are also some rather clever and funny lines, but what this film mostly demonstrates is what can happen when a clever marketing campaign is put into action.
With as bad as I thought this film was, I actually look forward to seeing what else this novice filmmaker will do in the future with a better cast and perhaps some more time and thought. He clearly does not need a large budget to get things done, but he may benefit from a little more experience.
Paranormal Activity is currently in limited release in 13 theaters around the country. If you wish to have it come to your town, you can go to: www.bloody-disgusting.com and “demand” that it be shown.
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