Thursday, October 29, 2009

Culture Shock 10.29.09: 'Paranormal Activity' is disappointingly normal

I'd like to congratulate the filmmakers responsible for "Paranormal Activity." You made a bad movie, but you didn't spend a lot of money doing it.

Normally, someone would have to spend at least $100 million to make a movie that tedious, boring, mindless and overhyped. But you did it for less than the cost of my last car. Well-played, gentlemen. Well-played.

For a film advertised as one of the scariest horror movies of all time, you'd think "Paranormal Activity" could at least have made me jump out of my seat once or twice. But no. Or, failing that, it could have conjured up a pervasive sense of dread and foreboding. A lot of the best horror movies aren't really scary, but they are incredibly creepy, which is often better. A scary movie can lose its impact soon after the credits roll. But a movie that really creeps you out can stick with you long after you leave the theater. Sadly, "Paranormal Activity" isn't especially creepy, either.

The plot, such as it is, involves a young couple — Katie and Micha (played by Katie Featherston and Micha Sloat) — who experience strange goings-on in their house. Micha gets the bright idea to set up a video camera to record what happens while he and Katie are asleep. The footage from the first couple of nights includes some banging noises downstairs and a door that moves on its own. Spooky stuff, I'm sure.

But the supernatural activity finally begins to escalate once Micha begins taunting the spirit.

Everyone knows the score. The audience knows it. Katie knows it, and she tells Micha to knock off his juvenile antics. The psychic whom Katie calls in for a consultation knows it. But Micha keeps on acting like a doofus alpha male who isn't going to let something like a malevolent, demonic spirit push him around.

Like the worst horror movies, and the worst movies in general, "Paranormal Activity" depends on its main characters being complete idiots for the story to advance. The last thing you want in a movie dealing with the supernatural is for the supernatural element to seem more realistic than the characters' actions. For example, as soon as Micha gets footage of truly inexplicable things happening, you'd think he'd go public with it. He could try to sell it or at least post it on YouTube. But his response is to keep on calling the demon names. And nothing good can come of that.

Unfortunately, what does come next is telegraphed so far in advance that it fails to shock or surprise. And the only good thing about that is no one in the theater accidentally spilled a drink on me.

Far from the scariest movie of all time, "Paranormal Activity" isn't even the scariest movie of the year. For that, I suggest renting "Drag Me to Hell." "Paranormal Activity" elicits obvious comparisons to "The Blair Witch Project." Both are comprised of fictional "found footage" depicting supposedly supernatural events, and both films are extremely profitable, thanks to their low production costs and wildly successful viral marketing campaigns. But at least "Blair Witch," which also wasn't as scary as advertised, was sometimes creepy. "Paranormal Activity," not so much.

What a disappointment. Seriously, I haven't been this let down by a movie since "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." I guess if there is one thing I can say in favor of "Paranormal Activity," it's that at least it didn't tarnish fond childhood memories.

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