30 April 2010

Clarky's Review: Paranormal Activity

The most hotly anticipated film in the history of Horror Club (with the exception of the upcoming The Innkeepers from Ti West) and one of the most hyped films of 2010 it was with great excitement and huge amounts of fear that we entered the cinema on a Sunday night last year. Would this produce the first bottle job of HC? It was a genuinely terrifying prospect for all of us after hearing the stories about the film and read the taglines. When Bloody Disgusting describes a film as "..one of the scariest movies of all time. You will be affected as it's hard to ignore the imprint it leaves on your psyche. Nightmares are guaranteed." then you stand up and take notice, especially as a new horror club in it's infancy.

Everyone seemed to be bringing out quotes like this and every advert on TV was filled with night vision shots of people screaming at the screen. I have to admit I was scared before I even got in the cinema. The tension pre screening, was palpable, with Ally, Fin and myself laughing nervously and making jokes about who would be the first to break and leave the cinema. Somewhat in jest, but also an attempt to lower our other members expectatins so that if we did leave there would be less shame.

In fact I was late to the cinema and Ally and Fin, fearing the worst, tried calling to ensure I was on the way. Unfortunately I was driving at the time and missed their call. For a while I'm sure they thought I had cracked under the pressure. But I eventually made it and we all settled down to watch "the greatest horror of all time".

Unfortunately we must have walked into the wrong cinema, because this is most certainly not what we got. Don't get me wrong this is not an awful film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is not nearly as good as it was regarded by critics. I can see why the film did get its reputation however, unlike Trick R Treat which as Ally pointed out last week is also criminally overrated.

Made for a miniscule budget of $15,000 the film certainly looks a lot better than this. And at times this is its greatest strength. At the time I was certainly a lot more forgiving of the film as I knew that it was made on a shoe string budget by a first time filmmaker. However, this budget also appears to be limiting at times. The entire plot appears to be set up so that the film can be shot with one camera angle and one set. Which is an inventive piece of thinking to avoid the budgetary constraints. Unfortunately, an hour and a half of the same thing was beyond bearable by the end for me, and a number of the scares retread the same ground.

The first few scares are effective, and I liked the way the tension built up and your eyes were constantly scanning the screen in case there was some unknown movement that you missed. It was certainly eerie and effective at moments, but as I noted before there are only so many ways you can do (effectively) the same trick in a slightly different manner.

If I had gone into this film without hearing anything about it I have no doubt that I would be writing this review ranting and raving about it. This really was a film you wanted to get in on the ground floor on, like the similarly shot / styled The Blair Witch Project. I can imagine seeing it when it first came out with no prior knowledge and no expectations. I would be going buck wild to try and get my friends to see this "groundbreaking horror". Unfortunately, like every new years party I've ever been to, the final product could never live up to the hype.

Another sticking point was the awful taste left in my mouth by the ending. The earlier parts of the film had hinted at different reasons for the happenings and had hinted at exorcisms etc and had brought one of the most hated items of HC members - the ouija board. The signs were good and I would have loved for the film to carry down this path, however this was not the case and we're left with a rather disappointing ending that has Spielberg's grubby little fingerprints all over it, especially when you read about some of the other endings.

Indeed one of the most disappointing things is that after Oren Peli stood up to Dreamworks wanting to completely remake the film but then bowed to the pressure to change the ending. To avoid spoilers please see here for details of the other endings, the second of which I consider to be far superior to what we are actually left with. As well as the fact that the main scare at the end was shown in the trailer meaning I was waiting the entire film for something to happen decreasing the tension as the scare didn't come out of nowhere (this is actually one of my main hates of all horror film trailers, being that they show the scares beforehand and therefore leave you underwhelmed at the cinema).

Not only this but in this day and age of sequels and Saw 18 the film has already produced a prequel Paranormal Activity 2 for the US market, a sequel (a totally different Paranormal Activity 2 for the Japanese market!) and now Paranormal Activity 3 is in the works, which can never be a good thing!

I may one day go back to revisit this film now the hubbub has died down, but the initial viewing hasn't left me so disappointed since I went to see Indiana Jones and the magic nuclear resistant padded fridge freezer and Mr TheBeef swinging like a monkey and catching up with a moving vehicle with aliens!

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