Monday, 2 November 2009



Can we please, please, pretty please, have a moratorium on POV camcorder horror movies? Quite apart from the fact that they're visually ugly, it's a device that's been done to death and beyond. Even though it had been pioneered way back in 1980 by the staggering yet unforgivable Cannibal Holocaust, it was The Blair Witch Project that really brought its use to wide attention and since then there've been a lot of entries in the genre. Many of them suffer the same basic narrative flaw: if the ghosts/monsters/aliens/zombies/newsreaders are coming after you, the smart thing to do is to drop the camera and leg it. Still, there've been a few which have sought to overcome this by incorporating the shooting medium into the story itself: the underrated The Collingswood Story is shot entirely on webcams.

Now we've got Paranormal Activity, the camcorder diary of a haunting in which Micah documents the mysterious events that occur in the (frankly massive) house he shares with his "engaged to be engaged" girlfriend Katie. At first the manifestations are fairly subtle: doors move slightly, mysterious rumbling noises. A psychic proves to be of little help, and Micah's efforts to find out what's going on only seem to make matters worse as the later occurrences are louder, angrier.

Paranormal Activity is marketed as "one of the scariest movies of all time" but in all honesty I don't think it is, unless you've not seen any even faintly scary movies in the first place. Even in the POV camcorder league the scariest one is still The St Francisville Experiment. "Nightmares are guaranteed"? Well, none yet and I've never had nightmares after horror films. I suspect the film might be suffering from overhype; when it shows up on release I imagine a lot of people are going to wonder what the fuss was all about. The trailer shows an American audience responding loudly to a screening of the film: screaming, jumping and clutching one another and there was little of that going on at the ICA (then again, we're British). The movie has its effective scare moments, undoubtedly, but they're mainly in the last 30 minutes or so: it does work, in parts, but there are again times when the guy should put the damned camera down. This isn't necessarily going to terrify the hardened horror fan, but the multiplex audiences who usually frequent Sandra Bullock movies will probably find it pretty frightening. And the final shot of the film is too much of a cheapjack horror movie shock moment.


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