A PARANORMAL Deconstruction: The Fasso Perspective
The Fasso Perspective,
My Sister Sarah is Much Cooler than your Boring Ghost Flick:
Sarah wanted to go to the movies.
A bit of back story: My sister is the head manager at a Panera Bread on Long Island. She’s supposed to work a 50-hour week, but God bless her, if she does less than 60 hours one week, she’s rewarding herself with some rare, well-deserved free time. I love my sister’s companionship, because she’s witty, funny and an all-around great person. And I understand just how valuable her free time is. So anytime she invites me to do something, I say yes.
I’d just come back from snowy Worcester, MA and the Rock and Shock convention the day before, and I had to drop my dad’s car off when I got Sarah’s call. “Phillie, do you want to see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY with me today? We can catch a matinee.” I’d read and heard a number of things about the film, and to be honest, I wasn’t really interested. Yes, one million people had petitioned to see the movie in wide release; but humans are herd animals, and they love to think they’re part of an “event.” As anybody who knows me will tell you, my tastes are unconventional, and often run against what is popular. So I wasn’t jumping to become part of the herd. But this was an invitation from Sarah. So I went.
What I got was a really boring, $11,000 movie. Understand that I went in knowing this was a low budget film made by a guy in the video game industry, with no-name actors. Given that, I was willing to forgive the film for its limited locations (it all takes place in one house, mainly in the bedroom and living room); lack of special effects (a nifty self-starting fire on a Ouija board and some footprints that suggest a ghost stepped in some flour are about it); and small cast (aside from a paranormal expert and a superfluous, bead-threading friend, Micah and Katie are about it). What I cannot forgive are the two main characters, and the plot, the two elements that make PARANORMAL ACTIVITY fail for me.
I never give away plot summaries in my reviews, but here’s how this film goes:
A young woman moves in with her annoying boyfriend and his video camera. Her ghost follows her. Micah becomes obsessed with filming the ghost, and in doing so, pisses off the ghost, Katie, and me. The two have interminable, circular conversations about the possibility that something bad might happen. Nothing happens. For a long, long time. At all. At the finale, a guy gets thrown at the camera, and there’s a cheap, Halloween mask effect. THE END.
Notice how I’ve spent more time talking about my sister Sarah than PARANORMAL ACTIVITY so far? That’s because hanging out with her is always fun. This movie, however, is not. It couldn’t be more boring if it tried. Instead of watching a horror movie, I thought I was viewing MY PARANORMAL DINNER WITH ANDRE. When Oren Peli sat down to write the script, he should have known two things: Even if you want to play smoke and mirrors, and hold back your monster in a horror movie, you’ve got to keep things moving to engage the audience; and if you’re going to make me wait, you’d better deliver one Hell of a payoff at the end. Peli does neither of these. Static is the name of the game, and by the time the ending arrived, I was relieved; not because of what happened to the young couple, but because I could leave the theatre.
Plot is always a development of character action and interaction. In a film that has only two players, those characters had better earn the audience’s sympathies, or the movie has no hope. To build those sympathies, Peli stacks the deck; after all, what civilized moviegoer wouldn’t root for an innocent, young couple being haunted by a malevolent spirit from the other side? Too bad his characters do everything possible to make me side with the ghost. Micah is such an unlikeable jerk, playing Camcorder Coppola even as his girlfriend begs him to stop filming and disturbing the spirits. Maybe she would’ve succeeded, if Katie weren’t one of the biggest milksops in the history of horror. Simultaneously drab and whiny, Katie is as unsavory as her boyfriend. Neither one elicited so much as an ounce of care out of me. The TRANSFORMERS sequel got a lot of flack about its cardboard characters acting as vehicles for the action. Given the two dullards that populate PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, I have to ask: Why aren’t people making the same complaint here?
I understand that I’m in the minority on this one, but PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is not a good horror movie. It’s boring, and populated by two unsympathetic characters. Despite how large its box office, it’s not revolutionary for low budget filmmaking (for a case of a low budget film that is, see: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD). It might change the industry (Paramount recently announced that it would be funding more low budget films), but on its own, it fails.
Or in the words of my sister Sarah as we left the theatre, “Wow. That couldn’t have sucked worse if it tried.”