Monday, October 17, 2011

Double Feature: Paranormal Activity 1 & 2

Note:  There is quite a bit of spoiling going on.  You have been warned.

I’ve liked several horror related things over on Facebook so every other week someone is asking things like: “What’s your favorite scary movie?” and “What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?”  The answers tend to fall along Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist, “Chucky rUlez!! Lol” and “something rented last week” lines.  A couple of other movies tend to show up with fair frequency:  the Paranormal Activity movies.
A bit of back story…  When I was 8 or 9, a couple of girls at school told me about Bloody Mary.  I don’t remember any of the particulars of the story beyond being in a dark room and saying her name 3 times while looking into a mirror.  She would appear behind you and possibly kill you or something.  The girls swore that they knew someone who died doing this.  I lived in a fairly small town and if any one died mysteriously it was fairly big news, but the power of belief for little kids destroys logic, so I believed it with all my heart.  That night I went home and said the name 2 ½ times, never getting that last Mary out.  We lived in a nice rented house at the time.  It had a massive backyard and these were the days when cicada and frogs were absurdly vocal.  I laid in bed for hours waiting and listening for creaks and noises to signal that Mary felt that that third Bloody was good enough for her.  So, I can appreciate what the movies are trying to do, even if I don’t necessarily enjoy them.
Paranormal Activity is about a chick and her boyfriend living in a scary house and refusing to leave.  Of course the events have nothing to do with the house and leaving wouldn’t actually help the situation, but still, just leave.
Juggsy McTitson arrives home and finds that her fella, Asshole Cameraman, of the Sausalito Cameramans, has purchased a new camera.  The novelty of camcorder ownership forces him to film every second of their lives together so we get a lot of: [POV shot of steak] [Camera shakily pans to chick]  Guy:  Boy honey this sure is a good steak.  Chick:  Get that camera out of my face.  It’s getting old.  [Camera is placed on table to show something in the background].   That’s pretty much the entire movie.

The Chick tells her fella that sees been hearing shit lately.  Fella, of course, doesn’t believe her and to prove how fucking stupid she is with the ghost shit decides to film themselves while they sleep.  That’ll show her.   So we get the meat of the movie, a stationary camera pointed at a bed as people sleep.

The PA movies rely heavily on being the cinematic equivalent of “Find the differences in the pictures” that you find in Highlights for Kids.  We search around the frame looking for a door to open or a light to turn on somewhere.  I get that the anticipation of these minor events happening and their escalation into major events is the fuel that powers these movies, but still, it’s 90 minutes of staring at a static camera angle waiting for a goddamned light to turn on.  Hell, half the time the light fails to turn on and you realize that you are Linus from Great Pumpkin.

In between the sleep we get scenes where Fella films Chick talking about how scared she is.  She just happens to know a guy who can sense ghosts and demons.  He enters the house looks around a bit and says, “Yeah the demon thing doesn’t like that I’m here.  I’m leaving.”  I’m guessing by “demon” he means “penis” and by “doesn’t like that I’m here” means “you have a boyfriend and I can’t motorboat your tits”.  We also get scenes of Fella going out of his way to prove how stupid Chick is which might explain why in 20 some odd days he gets zero action.  So a lesson for you young guys who may be entering into your first serious relationships, if your special lady claims to believe that an invisible demon is trying to possess her, pretend that you believe it also.  You may also want to mention casually that you saw on a website dedicated to Precious Moment figurines, pictures of baby animals and demon possession that invisible demons hate the sound of frequent nookie and will leave after a while.  If you want to push it a bit, maybe throw in that anal gets them out faster and don’t look at me like that it was on the website.  No I can’t remember the URL.  I recently cleaned out my cache and can’t find it now but it was there.  Fine whatever.

Anyways, the demon thing keeps doing stuff until we get to the “shocking” conclusion.  The movie doesn’t explain much, not that most of it would matter.  The only thing I would have liked to have known is why the demon lollygags for 20-something days.  Just possess her and get on with it, demon.  Maybe the sequel will explain a bit.  Let’s see.

Paranormal Activity 2 was probably green lit the moment the first one made a profit.  Which was probably on the first day of release at just one or two multiplexes..  According to IMDB it had a budget of $15,000 and made north of $100 million.  If that doesn’t get you a sequel then nothing will.

PA2 is actually a prequel and features the sister of Chick from the first.  It was budgeted at $2.7 million and I have no clue what the extra money was spend on.  It looks about the same as the first and the actors are, to my eye, still a bunch of unknowns.

So, PA2 follows similar lines as the first.   We get a guy with a camcorder filming everything and not believing anything his wife says even though the cameras seem to be filming 24 hours per day and he could watch the events.  He also has a daughter who is keen on videotaping everything as well.  

The movie opens with Guy and Sister bringing home a newborn.  We meet the daughter and a nanny and have a lot of people talking to the baby while staring at the camera. Next thing we know it is a few years later and there may have been a break in.  I’m not sure because I had my new kitty meowing at me and my son refusing to settle down.  My son was happy that the kid had one of those little airplanes with a face just like he has and he spent some time before falling asleep seeing if the kid had any Hot Wheels.   

Guy has cameras installed in and outside of the house and we are back into a PA movie where we sit and wait for something to happen on the edges of the frame.  I’m not going to explain the “plot” in too great of detail.  If you’ve seen the first you’ve seen this one.  Instead I’m going to take a look at the small details given out about the nature of the demon.

The girls did something when they were young that scared them.  They never really explain what because I believe that is the plot of the upcoming PA3.   A relative may or may not have made a deal with the demon and the payment is a first born son.  The daughter does a bit of looking and apparently the little boy is the first kid to fit the bill since the 30s.  Neither of the sisters appears to have jobs and live in nice houses.  Guy from PA2 may have a job but Fella doesn’t appear to have one or either works somewhere with a fairly open attendance policy so maybe the sisters have money.  

The question of why the demon takes its damned time possessing people still remains unexplained.  Maybe the demon with be chatty in the third.  Probably not.  Someday the series will head to the straight to video or Syfy original territory and the demon will explain its motivations in the voice of Val Kilmer or Cuba Gooding, Jr. and probably be a wise-cracking.

I keep asking myself what I really think of these movies.  They are well made for what they are.  On occasion I find myself getting sucked in a bit.  But, man, are they boring.  In about 3 hours of movie there are maybe 5 or 6 minutes of something, which really is unacceptable.  The movies also make the mistake of explaining too little. Keeping the monster a little mysterious tends to work well in horror movies, but telling the audience nothing at all about it doesn’t work.   I do like how straightforward it is with the killing.  

So, I’ll say that while I didn’t care for them I can see why others might like them.

- Bill Brock

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