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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Paranormal Activity: A Conversation

As I've stated in the past, Paranormal Activity may be the most divisive horror film of the year--or of recent years, in fact. Some, like myself, were bowled over by it--while others were very much let down. It seems to be a matter of extreme subjectivity.

I recently had an email debate on the subject with a fellow blogger, Katiebabs of the literary blog Babbling About Books. A devout fan of horror (atmospheric horror in particular, in fact), she was nevertheless disappointed with Paranormal Activity. Here is our conversation in its entirety:

KB: What made you want to see Paranormal Activity?

B-Sol: I had heard so much about it online, what horror fan wouldn't be intrigued? It was getting such a cult following so quickly. Also, that story about how it freaked out Steven Speilberg kind of sold me. I was very curious to see if it really was as genuinely frightening as people were saying.

KB: The hype surrounding Paranormal Activity was too strong not to ignore. I am also a fan of the underdog, those who don’t have a million-dollar payroll when making a movie, and creating a film that will put most big name Hollywood types to shame. And I am with you about Steven Speilberg. And since I have become a bit disillusioned with the latest in horror movies, I thought Paranormal Activity would be interesting to see. How do you feel about the comparisons others are making with Paranormal Activity to The Blair Witch Project? (which coincidentally came out ten years ago almost the to the day of Paranormal Activity’s release)

B-Sol: Yeah, that’s weird, isn’t it? Well I have to say, I was never a fan of Blair Witch, and have been more and more puzzled over the years as it has come to be regarded as a modern horror classic. I distinctly remember a lot of disappointment surrounding it when it first came out—not unlike with P.A., come to think of it. Personally, I found P.A. to be a far superior film.

KB: This is where I disagree. Blair Witch worked for me on so many different levels. The hype and history behind The Blair Witch was more planned. They made sure to use the internet in a great way as well as a companion book that I recommend everyone read before they see The Blair Witch. Because I read the book, I knew certain things that were happening to the three kids in the woods. Their desperation was more real because they had nowhere to go. In Paranormal Activity there were so many ways out, where they could have been saved. Of course, all these things would have ended the movie in a less than thrilling way. But I will say that P.A. was very real, from the way it was filmed to the relationship between Katie and Micah. I felt as if I was witness to their life and the intimate aspects, such as the way they hung out together in their living room, to even at night in bed together. I didn’t feel as if they were acting at all. How about you?

B-Sol: One of the things that killed Blair Witch for me was the shaky camera stuff. Not to sound like an old codger, but I just couldn’t deal with it. And thankfully, that’s absent from P.A. I think that was intentional, like they were trying to avoid the problem Blair Witch had. Also, there was a really great Sci-Fi Channel mockumentary that came out right before Blair Witch, that I actually enjoyed more than the movie. The only part of Blair Witch that really got to me was the ending, whereas with P.A. the sense of dread was pervasive, and grew steadily through the movie. And yes, the acting in P.A. was very convincing! A big part of what made it so effective.

KB: So, what did you think was effective? What scenes gave you the chills?

B-Sol: I liked how it built up, and got progressively creepier. In the beginning it’s so mundane, and slowly but surely, the shit starts to hit the fan. The first time you see her standing there by the bedside for like two hours without moving… Jesus Christ. The photo in the attic. The Ouija board scene. The giant shadow across the bedroom door. The powder footsteps. And then of course, towards the end, it goes completely batshit crazy. The movie amazed me by getting the maximum amount of scares out of a minimum amount of on-screen “stuff”. The economy of that was impressive to me. Almost like what Robert Wise did with The Haunting, although admittedly far less artfully than he did.

KB: The most effective and chilling thing was the very end of course, but when Kate would just stand near the bed and look off into space was very scary. And the one scene where he is pulled down the hallway. That made me jump in my seat. I also think the photo in the attic was pretty great, even though I though Micah was crazy the way he wanted to take a look up there knowing that there may be something up there that is out to harm him. I really blame Micah for the whole thing because he bought the camera, the Ouija board and because he was fighting with Kate, all that negative energy came into the house and helped bring out more paranormal events. If there was anything you would change or recommend to make P.A. a better viewing experience, what would you do?

B-Sol: Good question. I guess if I could change anything, there is probably a bit of mundane filler here and there that could go to tighten the movie up a bit. But then again, that only serves to help the tension build, in my opinion. To be honest, I’m pretty happy with it! Maybe they could’ve given the viewer a little more to go on over the course of the movie, because those early scenes do require a bit of patience to get through. But that’s about it.

KB: I would have loved to see more shocking spookiness going on. Perhaps more of a back story dealing with Kate. I did enjoy the build up but I felt something was lacking. And I assume there is a lot more unseen footage. I checked IMDB.com and there are some characters mentioned that didn’t make the cut in the final version. What I can say is that for a budget of less than $15,000, the creators of P.A. have shown Hollywood that you don’t need a big budget, big names or expensive effects to make a movie a great viewing experience.

B-Sol: Yes, I suppose a little more backstory might have gotten us even more invested in the characters, but I have to admit, I was pretty invested already thanks to their very naturalistic performances. I did hear that there was an alternate ending floating around, but from what I’ve heard it sounds like the one in the theatrical version was better.

KB: I would be definitely interested in seeing the outtakes or alternate endings when the DVD comes out! So, in closing, what would your final grade be, and who would you recommend P.A. to?

B-Sol: I’d have to give it a solid A. It’s just one of those rare horror movies that truly and genuinely had the power to creep me out, and it’s well-made for what it is. I’d recommend it to those who enjoy a truly scary ghost story or haunted house tale, and those who prefer their horror psychological, as opposed to explicit.

KB: Even though I did jump and my heart almost flew out of my mouth, I felt P.A. was somewhat clich├ęd. I wanted a bit more to the plot, more ghostly activity. There were so many ways out for Kate and Micah, to escape and get help, but they didn’t go those routes, because if they did, the movie would have ended and everyone would be happy and alive. I’d give it a C+ and those who enjoy such horror movies like The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist and Quarantine will want to see this one.


KT Grant said...

I forgot to mention that Micah really looks like the deceased DJ JAM. The resemblance in uncanny. *cue spooky music*

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed PA. I don't think I'd give it an A, but I waver between B+ and A-

I agree there were some truly suspenseful and scary moments. A few things bothered me. One was how clear it was that PA was written by men. Katie (was that her name?) was too passive for me. This was not the story of a woman stalked by a demon, or even of a couple dealing with this, but the story of a man whose girlfriend is stalked.

I found that this privileging of the male experience over the female to be quite disappointing. I don't think it was deliberate at all, but since it's this culture's default position, it would have been interesting to transgress that boundary.

And now, to be perverse, I also think the sexual aspects of the movie were completely ducked. The demon gets under the covers with Micah and NOTHING HAPPENS. There was no payoff for a really, truly creepy scene.

I also thought the very last shot was kind of a let down.

But really, PA is a really, really good movie. It was genuinely suspenseful in a way that I haven't seen in a movie in quite some time.

Jason Stroming said...

I thought P.A. was almost perfect. Without spoiling anything for your readers, I feel like the ending could have been a bit more subtle while still achieving the same effect. But it's just a minor quibble.

For me, "The Blair Witch Project" is still the best found footage movie (mainly because it was the first, but for other reasons as well). And I think it's genuiniely creepy. I did when I first saw it, and I still think so! I think the thing about TBWP is that it just feels more real than any other found footage movie. The actors are not the typical "pretty boy" types. They look like people you might actually know. They were actually stranded in the woods with the cold and the rain and deprived of food and sleep. I think all of those things add to the realism of the movie. I rmember hearing people in the theater watching it and actually believing it was real. Still one of my favorite horror movies.

I liked the fair amount of realism in P.A. I like that Katie was not some size 2 bleached blonde. I like that a lot of the methods they use and theories they talk about are what paranormal investigators actually rely on. But for me, the whole casting of Micah was off. He just seemed too "perfect." Plus he was a day trader in the movie, so in this economy, it's kind of hard to have any sympathy for him ;)

B-Sol said...

Jay, I value your opinion on this movie, since you're an actual professional in the field, with real-world experience. What a different experience it must be for you to watch a film like this!

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