When it comes to watching a horror film the types of films I prefer are the ones about ‘real’ make believe things. I mean, I like monsters and psychos and slashers. I like zombies. I loved zombies long before zombies were cool and two out of three films became simple parodies shot with a video camera. I like space monsters and mutants. I like biological terror and things that ooze around and dissolve people. I like giant insects and spiders or sea monsters and things mad scientists create that they lose control of. What I typically shy away from are films like Paranormal Activity, which is an ‘independent’ film (another type of horror film I shy away from anymore) by first time director/writer Oren Peli. I have never been a huge fan of supernatural thrillers with some exceptions of course. All the Exorcist clones from the 70’s did little for me. In fact I never really freaked out too bad on the Exorcist although I did a little the first time I saw it. It was at a reshowing of the film in theaters in San Antonio Texas in the 80’s. I was the only person in the theater and I was more than a little under the influence of marijuana and some red wine, something common for me in those wild days. Sort of blew my mind but when I have seen it sober (which I how I see all films any more as I have become a cultured tea-tottler these days) I I did not really find it so terrible, though it was a well made film. Sure I like the Sam Rami supernatural stuff and I am able to suspend disbelief and enjoy a film whose premise is based on something I actually may dismiss. I simply cannot really get into some paranormal type films. Films about ghosts, haunted houses, ESP, communicating with the dead and poltergeists really leave me wanting about 75% of the time, but not all the time. Lets be clear abut that. They can be well made and acted and yet I am going into them with a bias already. I admit it.
This 2007 film is about a young couple who move into a first home in San Diego. They suspect that there is something strange going on in the house and are soon using a video camera to record events while they sleep and seeking the advice of a psychic. It is one of those types of films where the story is always being told from the perspective of the person holding the video camera, in this case that is mostly Micah the boyfriend (the couple are not even married). His girl friend Katie appears to be the object of the supernatural events attention and as the movie unfolds we learn she has had a history of such things. It is not the house that is haunted but rather that Katie is the object of some spirit’s obsession. Or something like that. This movie has done well financially and seems to have a following of people who feel it is one of the scariest films in recent history if not in horror film history period. A quote from Horror Film News Site Bloody Disgusting goes: "Peli deserves props for milking the maximum amount of tension out of the spare, modern setting – an ordinary, cookie-cutter tract home in San Diego. It doesn’t sound very scary, but Peli manages to make it terrifying. If you aren’t white-knuckling your armrest at least once or twice while watching it, you probably don’t have a pulse." I guess I lack a pulse then because this was simply one of the most boring films I have seen in a long time. Nothing happens okay. The people are not professional actors and it shows in every scene. You have here a story where 90% of the action is being performed by two people. That can work in a movie when the actors can act. I am not going to take the road that says “oh given the budget and the fact it was the director’s first films and they were not professional actors but tried hard you should give them some “props”. I had heard a lot about this film and it all seemed favorable. I knew I did not usually like ‘supernatural’ thrillers much. I liked Rami’s Drag Me to Hell but was Sam Rami. I am not going to compare Peli to Rami as that would not be fair. But this films fails on the all the points, to me, that most people say it succeeds. Seeing all the scenes filmed inside the same house inside the same house becomes redundant and tedious not claustrophobic. The use of the hand held camera as a documentary tool does for this film what it does for most others that try this technique; gives evidence they cannot frame a shot or mount a camera. Many great film directors try this approach in their films including Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen. But they do it because they choose to do it not because it is all they are capable of. I just cannot stand this style f film making any more and I am not going to be nice about it.
The video camera is set up in the couple’s room to film events will they sleep. We are treated to brief scenes of doors closing, shadows on the door and foot prints appearing in talcum powder or something or Katie standing motionless for a couple hours then not remembering it the next day. These scenes are then followed by the ‘alarmed’ couple watching the tapes the next day and engaging in poorly written or poorly improvised dialog. In either case the acting is such a low level it is not tolerable. It never has the feel of being natural, which I assume is what they are going for here. Real people don’t act and talk like actors in the film. The problem is you need a really good actor to act like he or she is not acting. As the strange activities increase (it takes a long time for them to increase too) they couple stays in the house and still manage to fall off to sleep rather easily. There is not really a shocking moment until the end when Micah is hurled into the camera as it is recording events. Okay, I spoiled the big ending. Man, so what. Who want s to sit through an hour and a half to get one jolt. That scene is followed by a scene of Katie looking into the camera and smiling an evil smile. Maybe some people find this spooky but I forced myself to finish the film and the ending of her appearing to have become possessed was an ending out of the 70’s really. It reminded me of the endings of those Italian supernatural films of the time. There are supposed to be a couple alternative ending but I do not see how those can rescue this plodding, boring piece of tripe. It is not the last couple minutes of the film that is the problem, it is all the minutes before the ending that is the problem. Is the term ‘independent horror’ coming to refer to films only shot with a video camera with a cast of unknowns who recite lifeless dialog? Independent films used to be things that were made outside the studios were done so because the studios did not want to deal with the production and distribution of a film that was too controversial for a big name studio to stick its name on. There is nothing, nothing about this film that a big studio could not have handled and handled better and evenly with more shock and controversy. Paranormal Activity is not shocking or controversial. It is simply boring and poorly made. Don’t listen to me. Check it out. Maybe you’ll like it but I do not see what the hype is around this one at all.