Paranormal (In)Activity

Paranormal ActivityLet’s talk about Paranormal Activity for a minute. The latest installment of the franchise, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, opened this weekend in theaters. Yes, they’re still making these movies. Why? As a friend of mine that worked at Paramount once told a group of our way too cool for school friends who were giving him a hard time about Hollywood making crappy movies, “We’ll stop making them when you stop going to them.” Never was this missive more true than in the case of horror movies. Almost every horror movie makes money. This is mainly because we love to be scared. In fact, in a preview of next week’s article, the same feeling that draws us to fear also draws us to comedy, making the “horror comedy” genre pretty much the best thing ever. But I digress.

Horror movies scare us, which we like for some weird reason, and they’re usually cheap to make. You can literally buy a gallon of fake blood for about $10 at your local costume shop. So, they don’t have the same hurdles that many Hollywood movies have to achieve profitability. And thus, we are treated every year to another round of deranged individuals seeing just how far they can push us before we require psychiatric help. Eli Roth really set a new bar this year, for instance, with his film, The Green Inferno, which is just torture porn of the highest order.

Paranormal Activity, though, to me, is the worst (read: best) kind of horror. Cease your eye-rolling and let me explain.

These days, the found-footage horror movie is nearing cliche. It seems we get a new one every year that further dilutes the genre. Aliens on the dark side of the moon? Please. But, part of the reason we get so many of these movies now is precisely because of Paranormal Activity.

Mind you, I’m talking about the original film from 2007, before the however many sequels. Because, that’s what we do with horror. We take a genuinely scary movie and keep remaking it until it’s not scary anymore. We work through our demons by working through our demons, as it were.

But, the original film was scary. And, it was a big sensation. There was an entire mythology around it. It had debuted at a horror film festival, been bought up and then disappeared for years. In that time, all these stories popped up talking about how the film itself was haunted. There’s even a true story that when Steven Spielberg watched it at his home theater, the doors locked on their own. He brought the disc back to the studio in a trash bag. That story is true.

Finally, in the fall of 2007, the movie got a very limited release and immediately became a big deal. It’s one part the best marketing plan in the world, one part everyone likes to see scary movies in October, and one part genuinely good filmmaking. That’s right, I said it. That movie was made for $11,000, and it’s amazing. Take that, every guy with a Canon 5D.

So, I actually really don’t like scary movies. They - surprise - scare me. But, not like normal scare. They scare me to the point that I wrote an entire one-man show about my nightmares and trouble sleeping. Really.

But, the movie was a big deal, and I like movies. So, I went to see it. And, I was exactly as scared as I thought I would be. I usually sleep with a lamp on anyway, but for awhile after that, it was every light and the TV. I even put a crucifix up despite not being all that religious anymore.

But, tragedy + time = comedy, so now I can look back and give an honest review of the film that pokes at some of the holes within. Specifically, there is one really gigantic plot hole in Paranormal Activity. It’s a matter of timeline. Allow me to stretch my movie nerd muscles for a minute.

The basic plot of the movie is that Micah and Katie are a young married couple living in suburbia. There’s just one catch. Katie is seemingly pestered by some sort of unseen entity. Micah, being the loving and supportive husband he is, decides that the best way to deal with this is to turn on a camera and try to catch it all on film. From there, things predictably escalate. It’s actually a super simple concept made better by some truly creepy and creative haunting techniques. It definitely cashes in on the notion that what is unseen is often much scarier than what is seen.

Anyway, when the film starts, Katie is mildly annoyed at Micah’s camera solution. Mildly annoyed. And that makes sense. Most of the movie takes place at night in their bed and the first couple of things that happen are fairly mild, to the point that when you woke up in the morning, you might not even realize anything had happened. If that’s all that’s happening, maybe Micah’s not a total asshole for thinking that filming it would be a better idea than trying to seek out some sort of help. For real, though, Micah is a total asshole and deserves everything that happens to him.

But, there’s a problem with this. At some point in the movie, Katie mentions that this thing has been around since she was a kid. She’s now in her mid 20s. And, from the moment that Micah turns on the camera to the demonically possessed conclusion, it’s only about three weeks.

So, we have a timeline problem. Why the hell did this thing start haunting Katie when she was a kid, but not kick it into overdrive until she was an adult? I have a theory.

I think that Katie’s demon, when he first got the assignment to haunt and eventually possess her, was really excited. Like, Satan is going down the line of new demons and giving them people to possess.

“Mammon, you will possess Dick Cheney. Samael, you will possess Kim Jong….whichever one it is now. And Scott, you will possess Katie.”

That sounds lame, right? Wrong!

I think our demon was like, “Yes! This is my chance to really prove myself. Satan thinks I have potential, and that’s why he didn’t give me one of the easy ones. If I can do a good job with this little girl, he’ll notice, and I’ll get promoted. And eventually, I’ll work my way up to Head Demon and my demon parents will finally be proud of me!”

It’s like the American Dream, but for hell. So, pretty much still just like the American Dream.

And, when he starts, he’s really motivated and scares the crap out of her, but he’s never quite able to possess her. So, he works harder, but still no luck. And, after awhile, he starts to think, “Maybe I’m not really that good at this.” And his effort sinks. Eventually, he’s just punching the clock, going into work everyday but not really putting in any effort. His dream has died….Or so he thinks.

One night he walks in and what does he see but a camera! Realizing that this is probably his chance to finally get on Ghost Adventures, a major milestone for any good demon, he redoubles his efforts and finally is able to see his goal of possessing Katie through.

From the demon’s perspective, Paranormal Activity is really a heartwarming movie.

But, from the human perspective, the real demon in this story is Micah. He’s the worst.

That said, I still recommend the movie after all these eight years. Filmmaker Orin Pelli was incredibly inventive with his simple effects. Just think all the money Hollywood wastes on creature effects only to find out that the scariest thing is a girl being dragged out of her bed and down a dark hallway by absolutely nothing.

The ending is clunky, but who cares. You’ll already be so completely unnerved that you won’t care that Pelli drops the unseen tactic in the last seconds in order to elicit an unnecessary jump scare (that I’m pretty sure the studio ordered anyway. They shot like four endings to that movie. It’s the Lord of the Rings of horror movies.

Horror is naturally absurd though. As I’ll write next week, the line between humor and horror is perilously thin. So, here’s to our ability to give the things that scare us the most the Mystery Science Theater hindsight treatment. It may be the only way we ever sleep again. Or eat, in Eli Roth’s case.

As a parting shot, here’s a little list for you.

Kris’ Top 5 Comedy Horror Movies:

  • Shaun of the Dead
  • Cabin in the Woods
  • The Evil Dead Trilogy
  • Man Bites Dog
  • What We Do In The Shadows

Kris Noteboom is a Level 2 student at DCH. He is working on his PhD, with a focus comedy. He went on a mini tour this summer performing his comedic one-man show, And Then I Woke Up.