Tuesday 1 December 2009

Review: Paranormal Activity

Year: 2009 (made in 2007)
Director: Oren Peli
Screenplay: Oren Peli
Starring: Kate Featherstone, Michi Sloat

Synopsis is here

Less is more and hype kills movies. Two things that have stayed with me since my first viewing of the Blair Witch Project. I remember raving like a frenzied beast about it when I was at school. Being a bit disappointed after watching it and phoning my dad up straight afterwards because there was no way I was walking the quick way (through the woods) in the dark. It's good when a film can plant a small seed in your brain and giggles as said seed grows in your sub-conscious unassumingly. I'll always wonder how I feel if I had been with those first film-goers when Myrick and Sanchez placed their tiny movie in the documentary section of sundance (those crazy kids).

This bring brings me to Paranormal Activity which follows similar beats to the Blair Witch film in not only story structure (Be interesting to watch them back to back) but in success and marketing madness. Made for supposedly $11,000 dollars (Blair 35,000) and reaping back a hell of a lot more than it's combined total (I'm including marketing costs). PA has become a bit of a phenomenon. After ten years since Blair Witch made Hollywood take notice and realise that the net is a superb idea to market all types of shit INCLUDING MOVIES! Parnormal Activity has one upped it by utilizing web 2.0 as much as possible with sites such as demand it to up it's popularity. This is particularly interesting as the film was shelved for two years by Paramount before hand.

Now with all this talk of Blair Witch story structure and marketing thieving, it's quite clear that PA nabs quite a bit from such films as The Entity (1988) and of course one of my favorites The Exorcist (1973) when it comes to themes, tearing them kicking and screaming their respective decades and shoving them in front of the youtube generation. It becomes very clear that whatever this thing is that is wrecking this couples' life wants to possess (read: Rape) it's subject, this time being the wholesome and down to earth Kate. It's an blatant metaphor but still one that can disturb. Whether or not it will affect you I cannot say, i will say I wasn't surprised that the more outward reactions in the audience were female.

Director Peli also subtly mixes more modern issues of fear along with the primal such house invasion, stalking, pedophilia (the entity has been bothering Kate since she was young) and sometimes almost deftly blends them with the idea of this being found footage. Moments I did enjoy were such ideas like the ever moving Timestamp and the idea that this information can be watched straight back as soon as possible making the fear felt by the characters imminent.

It's a pity that Peli spoils essentially what is a solid piece of work with mishaps that show that this is his first film and he is finding his feet. First off, for something that is "found" this really shouldn't feel as staged as it does. The acting is amateur (except for Katie Featherstone quieter moments) and so much of the films editing and camerawork constantly reminded me that is a "film" and not "footage". I spent a lot of the daytime scenes frustrated as a character will hold the camera on something that is clearly a plot reveal or emotional moment that I just wouldn't believe as something a person would "just do". I should be absorbed by this because I shouldn't think it's a film even if I know I do. Because The Blair Witch Project is a project and a documentary I found reasoning behind the footage being shot justified especially when the "fear" sets in. The same will also go for Cloverfield, a film with a "camerman" whose obvious yet justified reason to keep shooting goes with the territory that's set up.

Peli's other decision to make the male lead character an absolute douche bag, whose constant, aggressive (and ridiculously ineffective) decision making is the main reason for the escalating activity is a terrible idea poorly executed. Almost everything this man says took me out of the movie and his lack sympathy for his girlfriend, is obnoxious, irritating and doesn't ring true. With a film like this, I liked it's smaller moments; a house creak here, or a shadow there. It's those moments I enjoy about films like this, because in reality it's those small things what puts you off balance.

I'm glad PA is doing well because as a film that may not have seen the light of day it has enough in the film to be watchable. But heading back to my first paragraph; hype kills movies and less is more. Ten years ago I knew fuck all about film making (like i do now!) and my ignorance clearly showed as a then 15 year old boy called his daddy because the trees might get him. Now days I'm more jaded and cynical, and even though you can't see the strings when the doors slam, it's suddenly very hard to believe that a couple will hug so tenderly for a strategically placed camera.