Friday, November 13, 2009

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Director: Oren Peli
Runtime: 86 min.
Verdict: A rather instructive exercise in the infinite pleasures of economy. And yes, a still camera is unnerving.
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Horror

        At this writing, the film has reportedly crossed the $100 million mark. Made in 2007, at a budget of $15,000, this is a fairytale alright. One might even claim Paranormal Activity is inspired by The Blair Witch Project. I would say, it emulates that success story all over again, for a new decade, and a new audience. For horror, more so than the thriller, is inarguably the most accessible of all genres. If 2012 were to really destroy our way of life, and future generations were to re-discover this medium, they would tend towards horror. It is the most natural of all genres, and one that shall never experience a lack of interest from the audiences.
        More so, a film like this, or The Blair Witch Project. Movies that create the illusion not of the magnificence or scope of celluloid, but the immediacy of reality. And that is what interests me no end. I mean, this is a home video. Watching a home video is a personal experience. How would you prefer watching a beloved’s marriage video – sitting on a couch with your family and sharing tidbits and laughs and what not, or sitting amidst hundreds of strangers with the footage splashed over the big screen? Come to think of it, how would you prefer to watch your porn? I mean, if given the choice between a shady theater and the warmth of your bedroom, I think the bedroom makes better sense. No, not because it allows you to react, but because it allows you to get involved and enjoy all the more. Alone, that piece of video is for you, only for you, not to be shared. I haven’t watched Rachel Getting Married on the big screen, and I don’t want to. You see, so much of the movie exists within me. I don’t know, maybe all the movies could be personal, or shared. Maybe both ways provide for a different experience. But I fail to understand – How a movie like Paranormal Activity, which is in essence a home video, and which depends upon the illusion that you feel what is happening inside is not just a movie wherein you can enjoy the action munching popcorn but an intense experience that has really happened in some corner of the map, can work on the big screen? It simply should not. But it does. You got $100 million to prove it. You know, is it the marketing or the story itself, I don’t know. I simply am not convinced.
        Never mind. Reader, here I declare that the rest of the review shall contain possible spoilers and I would advise you watch the movie first, and return later. I think watching this film needs you having no idea what to expect.
        Now, when I say Paranormal Activity only emulates the success of The Blair Witch Project, I claim thus based on the extremely interesting example of image composition at hand. In this age of fast cuts, and an active camera, the film represents a revolution. A camera has always been about what the filmmaker wants us to see. He arranges objects, choreographs movements and composes them with his camera so that he can take control of our eyeline and lead our eye from one part to another. This control is often manipulated for misdirection, and when done brilliantly, it surprises us, just like the best of the scary films. Of course, the genre has gone so banal that we come to anticipate every movement, and even predict what the camera is misleading us into, and to what end.
        Not in Paranormal Activity, where the nighttime bedroom sequences with a little timer on the right hand corner have to be one of the most accomplished pieces of image design in recent cinematic history. They are interspersed throughout the film, like say an action sequence in a Bond film, and they are the nigh points. Everything else is directed towards those few moments, wherein tensions heighten and there is an almost claustrophobic influx of fear. A little fade out is the red herring that one of those night sequences is next up, and all you see is an absolute still frame watching the action. I attach the image above for your reference. The camera is always there, right there, during those sequences. No obvious zooms, no formal establishing shots, the scene not following any specific architecture of shot-cycle, no obvious edits. All it does is place its camera at this strategic location in the room, where a young couple – Micah and Katie – find themselves haunted. The image is right there for you to scrutinize completely. It isn’t shying away; it is just sitting there, and making you feel helpless. The complete frame is up for grabs, and you have little to no idea where the action is going to come from, and what the nature of it would be. You would obviously look at the door, and the film shall play on those instincts too. And I shall divulge no further.
        These scenes, by their very design, are relying on absolute freedom to the viewer to imagine the worst. You see reader, the unknown and the unseen is always more fearful than what can be seen. The film follows that belief. The action is almost entirely within the confines of the household, and that in a way cuts you off from the world. It is a principle of filmmaking, or storytelling. You establish it firmly within the context of a world, and you go about creating the world in the background, and narrating the story in the foreground. And although the two actors – Ms. Featherson and Mr. Sloat – are miles away from convincing, they feel believable. You watch only them, continuously, and you get used to them. Audience behavior reader, it is a simple matter of audience behavior. Your mind adjusts. And the film there, starts to play like The Shining. You feel caged in with these people. You don’t exactly mind it, but I believe I was annoyed by both of them at various points of time. Is the film hinting at cabin fever? I don’t know. Much of the film, apart from the bedroom scenes, is by itself harmless, and contains quite ordinary pieces of footage. But as it starts acquiring context, everything inside begins to feel menacing. I think that calls for a greater study on the audience’s reactions. It would be greatly instructive. And yes, I shall share the film on the big screen, and see how it pans out.

3 comments:

Toto said...

Thanks Sathish.. An interesting movie to note.

-Toto
www.pixmonk.com

Toto said...

Thanks Sathish.. An interesting movie to note.

-Toto
www.pixmonk.com

The Ancient Mariner said...

loved the movie mate! a few movie suggestions for you and I want to read the reviews of these:-

1. Una Pura Formalita - Italian
2. The Devil's Backbone - Del Toro Spanish
3. Death & the Maiden - Polanski English

Do let me know if you enjoy them!