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Marlowe at the Cinema: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (Paramount)

Peter Marlowe
11-25-2009, 01:28 AM

With the hoopla-driven Paranormal Activity, it seemed to be one of those films that was going to be more frightening as a teaser trailer than it was as a feature. Indeed, this was a complete and utter fusion of Cloverfield and Blair Witch Project -- as all rumors and discussions even in this forum predicted -- and if it weren't for the come-at-a-moment's-notice ending and wildly brisk pace, this could have been one of the better films of the year, and I'm not kidding.

Alas, I was looking forward to this one based on the teaser TV spots and all the internet hubbub; the opening frame thanks Paramount pictures for being part of releasing this story to the public, alerting the viewers that something terrifyingly real is about to unfold. The entire film takes place from the perspective of a video camera, owned by a young Californian that lives with his girlfriend in a rather nice house. While she's a student, he's a day trader, so perhaps there is some reality and justification when you ask "how did they afford that place?" Well, it's not that the place is a palace -- but the two main characters come off appearing way too young to make a house like this work, complete with a pool out back. At any rate, Paranormal Activity finds the two main characters in the midst of "phenomena" that have been "haunting" them as of late -- particularly the girl. The major issues and problems don't start picking up steam until after these opening sequences, where the events just seem bothersome at best.

Each sequence of the film is broken up into actual nights recorded on the camera, at the foot of the couple's bed each night. Almost every evening, near the "witching hour" of 3 am, noises and disturbances can be heard recorded by the camera, outside of the couple's bedroom and all over the house. The effect was startlingly authentic and was different from almost every other horror/terror film; there are moments when we see the moving time during the recording on the camera go forward as if fast-forwarded, until a certain disturbance is caught. The couple calls in a psychic, who doesn't get along with the boyfriend as he's not really open to the whole spiritual thing, yet he definitely senses a strange presence in the home. Talking to the girl for awhile, he learns about a disturbing childhood and some horrible events involving a fire. Offering to bring more help and go further, the psychic is ushered out of the couple's house, their thinking being that perhaps they will see what the next few days brings.

As the nights pass, the noises in the home grow increasingly ominous and threatening; soon, booming pounds and shadowy figures cross their walls and shake their foundations. Eventually, the couple are forced from their bed to investigate the strange footprints, sounds and other happenings occurring in the house each and every night -- well, actually, in the wee hours of the mornings. They call the psychic back, desperate for help now that the symptoms of the haunting have gotten worse, but upon just stepping into their home this time, the psychic is terrified by something that forces him to leave. Inbetween, the girl attempts to find solace in her idiotic, but rather sexy, friend who comes over their house for support but offers nothing but critical evaluation of the boyfriend.

The ending of this film is very controversial and I simply cannot reveal it; suffice to say, I don't know whether to believe everything that happened in this case, particularly that last night that was filmed. We are lead to believe, according to the camera footage, that the girl was eventually possessed by whatever demon was torturing the couple in this house, which leads her to some criminal activity as evidenced by the closing frame of the film. There's more to it, but as I said, I cannot go further for those of you who haven't seen this yet.

What was the real deal behind Paranormal Activity? Was this based on actual events? Was it more a hoax, as portrayed by projects like Amityville Horror or Blair Witch? I have to do more research on the material behind this film because it was very interesting, to say the least, yet the aforementioned brisk pace and very sudden, "abrupt" ending let it down a bit. Make your own minds up about the events portrayed here and the claims they were "based" on, but if you missed this theatrically, give it a rental when it comes out -- highly recommended just for the creep factor alone.

Although a good monster film in its own right, Cloverfield simply gets too nauseating after awhile to really be enjoyable with Matt Reeves' camera-perspective shooting style that continuously bobs and jerks all over the place -- in that way, Paranormal Activity makes the same mistakes, yet the camera jerking factor is smoother and takes breaks during the night sequences in the bedroom, where the camera is mounted on a tripod and faces the bed. These scenes were particularly creepy and unsettling, as each night, there's a dead silence in the bedroom and on the camera, and suddenly, we hear distant unearthly noises, rumbles whispering voices...what makes it more unsettling is the structure created here suggesting what you're watching actually happened to someone. As the evenings pass, the haunting events get more dramatic, until the bedroom door creepingly opens by itself and powdery footprints make their way through the room, evidence that the entity is growing bolder and less tolerant of the boyfriend, who continues to mock the presence. The introduction of a Ouija board by the boyfriend only seems to make the matter worse, as it always does (hasn't any of these assclowns seen The Exorcist?) and eventually, the girl is affected directly by the unseen force. The boyfriend finds her in the backyard one night, in a comatose state -- the next day, she cannot recall getting out of the bed and standing at the bedside for hours just staring at her boyfriend which was all caught on tape.

As the events get weirder and weirder, the film gets better and better -- but before you know it, you're at the end, and you're sitting there with your Orville Redenbacher and extra butter wondering what just happened, and if there's more to this intriguing, yet frightening, story.

As I said, definitely give Paranormal Activity a rental when it comes out, or go see if it's still active theatrically near you. It's a different kind of fright picture that's real effective in many key areas. The jury is still out on whether or not I can recommend this for a purchase when it hits Blu-ray, but I'll get back to you on that as the time gets closer for release date.

Peter Marlowe
11-28-2009, 02:50 AM
Has anyone seen this yet?

Peter Marlowe
12-01-2009, 01:20 AM
Anyone have a chance to see this yet?

Peter Marlowe
05-05-2012, 05:29 PM

05-06-2012, 05:15 PM
I saw it and hated it.
The characters were extremely stupid and unlikable. I couldn't wait for them to die so I would not be subjected to watching them anymore.
I didn't find anything frightening about a moving door, some moving furniture pieces and a few sound effects. It was obvious to me that some such thing was going to happen within the frame because the filmmaker made us sit for awhile watching static footage of someone sleeping. Yawn. And rushing the camera for a scare is equivalent to one of those stupid "gotcha" videos on youtube - the ones that have the viewer watching one thing and then something jumps into frame and screams loudly. Hardly inspired or original.
I felt the whole thing was like a very long episode of one of those ghost-hunting shows on cable. Long and dull, unoriginal and uninspired.
That's my opinion. Take it for what it's worth.

Peter Marlowe
05-06-2012, 09:18 PM
The "edit" comment was actually an error on my part for drudging up the Paranormal Activity review; the film is old aready, with two sequels to its name...

I for one didn't think it was a dumb as you ascertain; off-putting with regard to today's idiotic youth and what entertains them? Sure. But the first one was a heck of a lot more frightening and jump-worthy than the sequels...

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