From The Published Archives: Paranormal Activity

In ten days, Paranormal Activity 4 arrives on DVD.   From the beginning I’ve not been an enthusiastic supporter of this franchise.  Although they have their moments none of the three previous installments are terribly scary movies.  Put simply, they’re just terrible.

I screened the original Paranormal Activity on March 27, 2010.  Instead of reviewing it in this space a quick 600-word critique was sent off to Monkeybiz.ca instead.  However, four months went by without a reply (not the first time this has happened).  By the summer of 2010, I fired off an email wondering what was going on and finally got a response.  Because they didn’t have the original review (was it deleted by mistake?) but were still interested in looking it over it was re-submitted in late July that same year (along with three other assessments that were magically misplaced the first go-round, as well).

For the most part, my MonkeyBiz submissions required little-to-no revision before being posted, which I always appreciated.  Paranormal Activity was a notable exception.  After being picked apart by Larissa Cardey (a soon-to-be MonkeyBiz editor who I eventually met once and like & respect) I was deeply aggravated.  No less than eight phrases (“point of tedium”, “unwanted visitor”, “states the obvious”, “you can see a mile away”, “by-the-numbers”, “standard fare”, “all for naught”, and a reference to Casper The Friendly Ghost) were singled out as being “cliched”, the most annoying complaint of the original draft.  Admittedly, she had a point in most of these cases but not all.  Anyway, once I calmed down I looked over the review to see if it could be improved.

Of course it could.  Truthfully, the second version I submitted felt a bit stronger than the first.  All but two of the alleged “cliches” were dropped, certain sections were fleshed out a bit more (Larissa felt I should summarize the plot of The Blair Witch Project for those who hadn’t seen it as well as briefly explain what a FireFile is) along with a few other minor adjustments, one of which was made by Larissa herself during a final edit (which I didn’t care for).  This re-vamped review was posted on MonkeyBiz on July 30, 2010.  Despite being overly sensitive and protective of the original draft I was generally happy with the final piece.  Larissa did help make it better despite my grumbling.

What follows is mostly what was posted on MonkeyBiz (I’ve made three minor restorations) with the exception of the poster that accompanied the original review.  Check it out:

Paranormal Activity: A Movie Review

Posted on July 30 2010 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl

Unexplained noises in the middle of the night.  A dark shadow traversing across an open bedroom door.  An ungodly scream from down the hall.

Ever since beautiful English major Katie (Katie Featherston) moved in with her goofy day trader boyfriend of three years, Micah (Micah Sloat), the couple has detected a presence in their San Diego home.  And it’s far from friendly.

It’s September 2006.  A somewhat concerned Micah has started documenting the slowly increasing antics of an invisible poltergeist, as well as the couple’s day-to-day life together, using a camcorder he’s just purchased.

At night, he rests the camera on a tripod set up in the corner of their bedroom and connected to a running FireFile program on his laptop.  As the couple sleeps, the camera sees and hears all while the computer stores the information for later viewing.

Every morning he looks at the footage, hoping to get some dependable evidence of the unwanted visitor’s existence.  Sometimes, he notices some unusual moments.

This is the setup for Paranormal Activity, a preposterous, occasionally tense yet inconsistent horror film very much in the tradition of The Blair Witch Project.  Like the small-budgeted 1999 blockbuster about a trio of documentary filmmakers seeking documented proof of a legendary, malevolent spirit, it’s an overrated, underwhelming misfire.

Early on, the presence reveals itself through loud, occasional banging noises on certain nights.  As the film progresses, the presence becomes much braver and more serious.  Somehow, it’s able to turn a bathroom light on and off.  At one point, it literally climbs into bed right next to Katie.

In one rather cool sequence, it sets a borrowed Ouija board on fire in the downstairs living room while our embattled heroes are out to dinner.  The way the film achieves all of these effects is actually quite impressive.  You’re absolutely convinced there’s a ghost in this house despite the absurdity of its remarkable abilities.

The occasional fast forwarding of the nighttime sequences is also effective, especially those odd moments when Katie is on her feet beside the bed staring at Micah for hours as the camcorder time code zooms by.  That stationary bedroom shot is so perfect you wish the whole film had taken place in there.

Then again, with lacklustre protagonists anchoring this movie, maybe not.  Like The Blair Witch Project, the lead actors essentially play onscreen versions of themselves.  Thankfully, they’re somewhat less irritating than the doomed filmmakers of the earlier film whose constant bickering made you care less about their predicament.

Unfortunately, Micah and Katie are neither interesting nor terribly charming.  Micah offers numerous remarks that aren’t funny and is way too obsessed with taping the sometimes bossy Katie, much to her frequent annoyance.  The couple lacks chemistry, too.

Mark Fredrichs does a good job playing a visiting psychic who warns them about fleeing their haunted house and attempting to antagonize or communicate with the presence.  Don’t make it any angrier, he warns.  The presence will follow them wherever they go.

When he makes some rather obvious statements, you’ll roll your eyes.  What a surprise that he’s unqualified to extract the invisible visitor himself.  How convenient that the expert he recommends for the job is “away for a few days.”

Most disappointing is the ending which you can see well ahead of time although I have to admit part of it is well executed.

Modern horror films tend to be routine bloodfests that are so unwilling to be original.  Despite its flaws, Paranormal Activity admirably refuses to be standard fare, presenting an ambitious premise on a small budget and producing some genuinely atmospheric moments.  But without lovable heroes to care about and consistent scares, it’s less than wholly satisfying.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, January 19, 2013
11:13 p.m.

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Published in: on January 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] American Wedding and Inglourious Basterds appeared alongside previously published assessments of Paranormal Activity, Assassins, Jennifer’s Body and The Unborn.  All but one of those last four originally […]


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