Thursday, 4 November 2010


If it works, do it again. Saw worked, so they did it again. (And again and again.) Friday The 13th worked, so they did it again. Night Of The Living Dead worked, so loads of people tried to do it again. Suspiria worked, and if they can figure out how they'll do that again. Sequels and remakes and clones are what keep the genre going, unfortunately; originality is just the fuel to keep the unoriginality machine chugging along.

So they made an original film called Paranormal Activity that was shot with two unknowns on a retail camcorder in the director's own house; it made millions. Because it was put together on such a tiny budget, it was in profit after about twenty minutes. And obviously there would be more of the same because they're not going to leave a good horse unflogged. Paranormal Activity 2 is actually set slightly before the events of the first instalment, detailing the supernatural horrors that plague a youngish family living in a house that looks to be about the size of Southfork. All of it comes from the family's camcorder or the home security cameras they've installed (so we get six or seven blurry night-vision images to stare at instead of just one) and, as before, things start off fairly quietly - there are unexplained noises, doors swing open, objects move, though so slightly that you might well not notice them. What do they want? The daughter has some twaddlesome idea that it's demons intent on collecting the soul of her infant brother as payment for her great-grandmother's Faustian bargain for material wealth (which would explain how they're living in a house that could accommodate three times as many people along with their horses. Christopher Nolan could shoot a Batman movie in their lounge.) And what's in the cellar?

The spooky things do get more blatant and more aggressive and it's when they crank the visitations up that the film makes you jump. Fine - timing is as important in horror as it is in comedy and there are two superbly timed jolt moments in the film. But that's "Boo!" horror - something unexpected happens with a loud noise. What it doesn't achieve is any longterm horror; we're supposed to be scared in a slow-burning kind of way, constantly clinging the armrests, but it doesn't manage it and ultimately what we have here is, unfortunately, more than a little on the dull side. If Saw 3D (which I saw the same day) was like staring at a stack of A4 crime scene pictures for 90 minutes, this is like looking through someone's home videos and closed circuit security tapes. Much of it, particularly in the early stages, is actually boring as we're left watching static night shots of the kitchen, the pool, the front driveway, in which absolutely nothing is happening.

More interestingly, having invested in this security system, no-one seems that interested in watching the tapes back when the spooky stuff does arrive. Can we please stop with the found footage style? They've managed to incorporate it reasonably well in a few films (the whole idea goes back to Cannibal Holocaust anyway although it was really popularised in The Blair Witch Project and a couple of other films made around that time, such as The St Francisville Experiment). But we know it's not real and the use of these camera techniques to convince us that it is real just don't work. If it was genuine there's no way it would have the Paramount Pictures logo at the end. Make a haunted house movie. But don't try and tell us it's anything other than a fiction. You're insulting our intelligence. And despite being only 91 minutes long, it could do with massive trimming in the first reel.


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