Sunday, October 18, 2009

Paranormal Activity: Return of the Old, Dark House

The Boy and I snuck in a Saturday Matinee in the hopes of seeing Paranormal Activity while avoiding—well, let's be honest, the public, who can't really be trusted to shut up and actually watch a movie these days. Particularly, since one of our last horror outings (The Orphan) had taken place in a theater full of rowdy teenagers, we'd hoped an early Saturday show would be mostly empty.

It wasn't, unfortunately. But the audience was quiet, leading me to suspect that alcohol plays a factor in teen jerkiness, maybe more than the teen part even.

This movie, the brain child of writer/director/former video game programmer Oren Peli is actually nothing more than a classic Old, Dark House story. Which means, seriously, a bad audience will ruin it for you.

This movie has one of the slowest buildups for a horror movie I've seen in a long time. Well, for a good horror movie. The movie is absent any gore whatsoever—you've seen worse on "Law and Order". The horrors, very literally, are bumps in the night.

Actually, those are some of the more overt horrors. A couple of others are a door that moves about six inches, and one of the characters just standing there.

You get the idea. It's all in the telling. Oh! And sleepwalking! I haven't seen sleepwalking used to be scary since, what, 1943's I Walked With A Zombie?

The story is that Katie and Micah have been living together with a bit of poltergeist phenomenon. It's been getting worse and rattling Katie, so she calls in a psychic. In this interview, we come to understand the Katie's been having this problem most of her life. The psychic decides that it's not your average restless spirit, but a demon, and he doesn't do demons. Call the local demonologist.

Against this backdrop, the glib, cocky Micah goes through a number of changes. Katie, of course, believes and is very respectful of her demon while Micah goes from thinking on the one hand that it's all silly and psychics are worthless, to being excited about the prospect of catching interesting film footage and actually stirring stuff up.

And while this is all hand-held video, for good stretches the camera is mounted, meaning much less of the shakes.

It's actually got a very real feel to it, much more so than Blair Witch, and if Zombieland is a sort of low budget, the budget for this movie is said to be eleven thousand dollars. Most of the chills are ghost-story type things, such as a door opening slightly or a sheet billowing, but there are some interesting footfalls and a bit of special effects at the ending, too. It's all lightly done, though.

Adding to it is that Micah and Kate (the actors' real names) have a very real look to them. Kate is "Hollywood fat" which is to say, not fat at all, but probably fifteen to twenty pounds heavier than they'll let her be if she's in anything else. (Remember how skinny Heather Donahue got after "Witch". Scarier than the movie.)

Anyway, rather realistically and conveniently, her boyfriend tends to leer a bit when he's got the camera on her. A little less realistically is that she wears bras to bed. (I guess not unheard of, but it reminded me a bit of Megan McCain's just lying around the house picture.) A couple of other things like that sort of caught my eye. (Like, why don't they change sides in bed? Well, the camera shots are better that way and it probably wouldn't make any difference story-wise. Still, that's what I would've done.)

But when you're picking nits at this level, you've got yourself a solid picture.

Couldn't figure out why it was rated R when it was over. I guess there was some swearing? (I don't usually notice.) But I'd guess it was more that that's what the filmmakers wanted. PG-13 would've been more than adequate. It had an "R" feel, though.

I like "house" movies; always have. But this is an especially good one.

The Boy was less impressed. You could say we were flipped on this and Zombieland. I liked the slow buildup, he thought it was too slow. Also, Zombieland is more lighthearted, whereas this movie gets more and more serious every passing scene, despite a lot of humor.

Nonetheless, not only were people quiet during this movie, most stayed quiet well after the final scene, not really sure if it was over. Even the people who decided it was over left quietly. Pretty amazing, really.


  1. How come people who are stalked by demons aren't religious? If I was that woman I would have headed straight to the nearest convent.

  2. Good question. Seems like demons would be pretty solid proof of something supernatural.

    Then again, back when I was an atheist, I knew a fellow atheist who used to go on about ghosts. Annoyed the heck out of me. "What do you mean ghosts? There's no god; no soul; what do you suppose the ghosts are? Where is your skepticism?" Oh well.

    How did the very end (last minute) seem to you, Blake? Did it fit with the rest or did it seem more "Hollywood?"

  3. Jason--

    Yeah, I kept thinking that, too. Also, skepticism after you, personally, have experienced something obvious paranormal.

    That and the bra thing kept bugging me. Heh. Not to be a flaming hetero or anything, but really!

  4. Freem--

    The end was very clichéd, but it was just an effect and it seemed fairly effective since it was the only time they had used anything like it.

    I don't know if it was necessary or not but I'm not sure what else they could've done.

  5. You put your finger on something that always bothers me. A woman wearing a bra to bed.

    Hee, you put your finger on it.

  6. That's why the Medium TV show is totally unbelievable.

    I mean I believe that she can have dreams that fortell the future and has pyshic powers and all that stuff. But she always has her rocking ta-ta's in bra. In every scene in bed. Which is basicly every other scene. See she is always sleeping and dreaming and starts awake and wakes up her husband to tell him what she dreamed. And always wearing a bra.

    I call bull shit.

  7. Now I can understand why they do this. Patrica Arquette has a really oustanding rack and if she didn't wear a bra and jump started like she does every week one of those puppies would bounce up and hit her in the head and knock her out.

  8. Oh and in every scene she is wearing Bedhead pajama's that we carry at the store. And online. Just so everyone knows. Hee.

  9. But the bra thing. That's baloney. I hate it when movies and TV are so fake like that.

    You just can't enjoy it you know.

  10. Thanks for the review. Count me among the few who were terrified by Blair Witch [Never believed it was real, just to clarify]. So this one sounds right up my alley.

  11. Women don't wear bras to bed?

    I lost the ability to suspend disbelief for "scary" movies (at least since I saw Alien for the first time, when I was 10.) Blair Witch, besides making me want to throw up, made me wonder why people would assume a witch (of all things!) is out to get them and not a serial killer.

    I suppose you've seen Burnt Offerings with Karen Black and Bette Davis and...the chauffeur!! Ah, good times. My dad owned the trailer when I was a kid and would play it on movie nights (he and his friends owned a lot of 35 mm movies). I used to be able to recite that trailer by heart.

  12. I think a few women do, but it's rare. They're either too small to need them or big enough that they need a break from the confinement. The ones who do do so on the basis that it will prevent sag later. But wearing a bra to bed can also increase cancer risk.

    Or so I'm told. It's weird what I know.

    Sure, I've seen that movie from the Golden Era of Black. Bette got a lot of mileage in the last three decades or so, simply by being scary looking.

  13. Sounds like a fascinating movie. I've now got to see it, and maybe take a kid. Having boys 13 & 15 who like horror movies, it might be interesting to see how their reactions differ, if they're both able to see itl. I can only take the younger one myself though, as the 15-year-old would not be caught dead at a movie with a parent.

    Patricia Arquette is the most interesting actress I've ever seen on TV. It's been fascinating to watch her age and fall through some sort of zaftig event horizon that actresses are not supposed to cross. Except for the bra thing, done for obvious reasons, she is the most real-life, but still sexy-looking actress I have ever seen.

  14. Right on Theo!!!!!!!!

    Pat is a real woman with a real womans body with a convincingly bitchy attitude who still loves her husband. Their relationship is one of the truest portrayals of marriage that I have seen on TV in a long time.

  15. If she were a brunette it would like I was looking in a mirror.

  16. The Boy still likes going to the movies with me, even at 14. I'll enjoy my few years.

    I haven't seen "Medium".


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