Monday, November 2, 2009
Look, honey - there's nothing scary over there!
If you, like me, were suckered into Paranormal Activity by the marketing tease - well, I wish I had a plan to get our money back, but I don't. And as we both know, we certainly can't look back on any satisfying scares for our combined $20. Indeed, all I can admire about the movie is its marketing campaign, and how it hooked me with a line perfectly tailored to my demographic. Was I dumb enough to fall for Blair Witch Project, the Yuppie Edition? Yes, I was.
Not because I believed Paranormal Activity was, indeed, some lost video of ghouls gone wild. But I did believe, as so many reviewers (and even acquaintances) assured me, that it was a clever vehicle for several good scares, done entirely through suggestion. It scared me silly, went the refrain, and there wasn't even any gore at all! Indeed, some critics (like the Globe's semi-evil Ty Burr) claimed that the growing chorus of complaint that the movie just wasn't scary was the result of a fanboy sensibility so blunted by Saw and its ilk that it was unable to appreciate a good, old-fashioned yarn.
If only. Oh, sure, the premise was great - hubby sets up video cameras when something wicked starts t-t-tapping at the bedroom door - but unfortunately, that premise is all the movie really has to offer. And sure, there are some fun, spine-tingling moments at the beginning, when a door squeaks a few inches open, or an overhead fixture begins to swing all by itself.
But to be blunt, we're not squealing at those moments because of any skill in storytelling or direction (much less indirection); we're squealing because we've been primed to squeal, and are happy to do so, and then giggle to ourselves afterward. We've been told to expect the best ghost story since The Sixth Sense, only this time told entirely through suggestion, with only the simplest of effects. And we are so ready.
Slowly, however, our squeals and giggles grow fewer and farther between, as we realize that writer/director Oren Peli doesn't really have any narrative cards up his sleeve after all. All he has are a pretty-good bedroom set (above), with shadowy hall running off to a classically dark staircase - and refs to other movies: the shower from The Shining, the attic from The Exorcist et. al., all do cameos to fill up Peli's 90 minutes or so of running time. The references are, in effect, his plot. Because not only could Peli not afford any effects, he couldn't afford many actors, either (even though his central pair are appealing), much less such luxuries as exterior shooting. The claim was that he was clever enough to work within those admittedly tight constraints. The truth is that he wasn't.
Oh, well. Can anyone tell me when we last had a hit movie that was actually any good? In the meantime, what's scary is that Paranormal Activity II is already in the works. In which, I guess, we follow the terrifying exploits (spoiler alert!!!) of a demon terrorizing San Diego in a tank top and shorts. Oh, yeah, be afraid. Be very afraid.