Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mixed results from a small budget

Editor's note: WB contributor Nighthand returns from the land of finals, commencement, and job applications!

By now most people have heard of the new movie, Paranormal Activity. If not, here’s the low-down: a girl has been haunted, off and on, by something undefined since she was eight. Her boyfriend, with whom she now lives, knows about this, and a few recent incidents of noises in the night have prompted him to purchase an expensive video camera, microphone, and other detection gear to watch all the time so he can find the root of the problem. Girl is less than enthused with the situation and doesn’t want him to antagonize the spirit. Guy is full of bravado and skepticism, antagonizing the spirit.

But now: what’s up with their house? They have a television larger than the screens of some theaters showing the movie, more rooms than they know what to do with, and an apparently endless supply of free time.

Now, see, this isn’t your typical gore-porn horror film. It’s an honest-to-deity psychological scare. It starts out tame. A door moving slightly in the night. A thud and a moving chandelier. It grows more intense as Guy tries to call "it" out. Antics with an Ouija board ensue. Escalation. Climax. Without spoiling the ending, we’ll just say this: you probably know already.

So what’s the point? Haven’t we all seen this movie before? Not exactly, because Paranormal Activity does a few things interestingly. For one thing, it’s small, by which we mean definitely not large in its resources, filming, production, or cast. There are only four characters: Guy, Girl, Girl’s Friend, Psychic, and the latter appears just twice in the film. The entire story takes place in an opulent house, with the exception of the opening scene in the driveway. Yet, there’s still much to explore. The house is large enough that you never see everything, and two whole spare rooms are left virtually unseen through the majority of the film.

The presentation is impressive. There's no opening, no pre-film credits displaying actor names and production houses. A simple black screen with white text is shown to the audience prior to the actual start. Same with the ending; only an ominous few lines of text and a black screen, no credits. (This was the wrong project for any film crew members who live for seeing their names on the screen.)

But beyond that, Paranormal Activity is pretty much a home-movie styled portrayal of creepy stuff happening, all culminating with a classic horror-style vibe. The various events and their build-up are all basically par for the horror-film course. Every one of them is telegraphed by a thrumming bass noise, almost like an old furnace blowing through the vents, something all of us have at home to remind us of the scary bits.

Ultimately, we think of PA like Cloverfield or Blair Witch meets… well, Blair Witch. Oh look; there are time-codes in the corner counting down to morning, while a gray-blue evening camera lens is accompanied by the thuds of footsteps on the stairs!

Really guys, you should have kept the bedroom door closed. The unknown "it" even closed it for you.

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