Thursday, October 29, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Sometimes personal experiences add to the effect of a film. Why certain things happen the way they do, when they do, is beyond reason at times, it is almost as if destiny is involved. So were my own experiences in seeing Paranormal Activity. This Independent Film has taken the industry by storm. This little film, with an ingenious marketing campaign, and a very small budget, even by independent standards, has blasted into theaters, taking number one in the box office last week. This Blair Witch type of film, not only in marketing but style has other things that had at least this one viewer in wonder today.

Two things had recently happened to cause me to reflect more than usual after seeing this film, the first is coming right of the tails of my attendance to the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita where Independent Film was celebrated. Fresh on the heals of hearing how Independent Film Makers have desires and wishes that are demonstrated in the success of films like Paranormal Activity. I couldn’t help but wonder, in the success of a film like this, how much is hard work, or destiny, and how much is a combination of both.

The second thing that caused me to think today was my own desire, my own search this morning for a quality video camera to do some video work, playing with the idea of doing some of my own documentary and film work. You have to see Paranormal Activity to understand the irony of this event.

Paranormal Activity is at the very least, a strange film that will suck some audience members in, while at the same time, have some techniques that will have students of film learning. While many will see two primary characters lives portrayed over the period of a few weeks, we should never loose sight of the fact that in many ways, the camera the couple is using to document their own paranormal experiences is also one of the characters of the film.

The premise of the film is simple, Micah, played by Micah Sloat is the live in boyfriend of Katie, played by Katie Featherston. Katie has had some paranormal activities bother her through a series of events through her life. The activity has resurfaced and Micah, a day trader decides to spend some bucks and purchase an elaborate video camera and set up to follow the events. Paranormal Activity follows the events of these two around the house as recorded on the video camera. As events unfold, Micah decides to try and control and ultimately challenge the entity tormenting Katie. While there are benefits to having largely unknown actors play their respective parts, the real compliment we see on screen fall under the direction of the film, the camera has a way of drawing the viewer into the story, and the intensity develops until the conclusion of the film that has as a semblance the closing scene in Quarantine.

There are challenges to Paranormal Activity. Following the traditions of films like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Quarantine and others, we see the camera here largely on stable platforms such as tables and tripods. While we still have some hand held footage, it is not as likely to cause as much physical sickness due to the style as other films like this. There are enough sequences that those impacted by footage like this may get physically sick. The story flows nicely, and outside of a few scenes, the characters stay in character. There are times the actors seem out of character but they largely play their roles quite nicely, a credit to the direction provided by Orin Peli who also wrote the screenplay. It does appear as if much of the screenplay was actually ad-libbed.

There are unique questions raised in the film, the primary one being the difference between ghosts and demons and the effects they have. While we see the appearance of a psychic who warns about the differences, there is never really any clarity and one finds themselves talking out loud to the screen at the often times seemingly apparent stupidity displayed by Micah. This type of conflict can at times make a movie work, an example here is in a movie like Halloween, but here, in a film we are supposed to believe or at least perceive as actual events, we only find ourselves thinking how stupid the characters are. Where character development takes place, this isn’t that big of a deal, but here, it hinders from what appears to be the purpose of the movie. The truth is, we know, and discover very little about any of the characters we see on screen.

There are other questions asked, questions related to love and commitment, as opposed to selfish desire. While these are worthy subjects, I felt Paranormal Activity to be somewhat lacking in the perspectives it gave. Maybe it was from coming off the heels of some impressive Independent work at the Tallgrass Film Festival. Even without this recent experience though, I just think there are many movies that do a much better job than what we experienced here.

I was expecting more from Paranormal Activity. I have heard many say it was one of the scariest movies they have ever seen. The marketing has certainly added to that mystique, but I found myself thinking, if people thought this was the scariest movie they had ever seen, they simply needed to get out and see more movies. I found myself laughing at various scenes where I was supposed to be scared. The anticipation of what was to be expected in some ways was scarier than what actually happened. I guess here, there is a valid point that often times, the things we think are bad, just aren’t that bad. The things we worry about just aren’t that serious. Of course the film makers of Paranormal Activity would have us see things differently; I just didn’t see it that way.

Many will assume that I didn’t Paranormal Activity was that great. That would be a fair assumption, but don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a bad movie; I enjoyed it and am glad I saw it. Just don’t think it is going to be as great as some have said, and if you like scary stories this one will be one to see, if for no other reason, the uniqueness of the story. From a technical perspective, I enjoyed the film, from a story perspective; I have seen many that are far better. I applaud the film, in some ways I am thrilled at the success, not for the content though but for the reality that a small independent film can still find success. While I would have liked a better story, it is no Blair Witch, and I have seen many films that have a better story, but the success of Paranormal Activity provides hope, it provides hope to all of those film makers out there who want more. In that regard, hopefully not only the fans, film makers, and theaters learn from this movie, but a industry that seems to be in dire need of inspiration for original stories. There are multitudes of Independent Films that are original, it would be nice to see some of those garnish even a small amount of success this film has gained.

On a scale of 1 – 10 for an okay movie, that I just didn’t think was all that great, a lackluster but positive 6

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