The Blair Witch Project has a lot to answer for. Ostensibly that film was the first film of the Internet generation; a time when a film could be made on affordable cameras that anyone could go and buy in their local shop. Though it wasn’t the first film to use the faux-documentary conceit, thanks to the use of cheap videocameras and the Internet, it was the first film to imply that this could happen to anyone.
Thanks to the Internet the idea of a fake documentary isn’t going to die any time soon. Though we didn’t get the post Blair Witch explosion I’m sure many people were expecting (Aside from a glut of parody films, The Erotic Witch Project anyone?), we have hit a glut of those films in recent years. Just off the top of my head there’s Lake Mungo, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, [Rec] and the sequel [Rec] 2 (Or the American remake Quarantine, which is almost shot for shot the same as [Rec]). Thanks to the advent of Youtube we have Marble Hornets or the Everyman Hybrid series of videos (I’ll be doing a seperate entry for these). Paranormal Activity very much feels like a series of Youtube videos stretched out to full length.
From what I gather the film was something of a phenomenon on release, which is suprising because given one or two scenes the film is largely forgettable. Something like the aforementioned Marble Hornets or Everyman Hybrid work because they’re almost serialised in a way. Every couple of weeks a new entry is posted, sometimes running 2 minutes long, other times 10 minutes. Taken in bitesize chunks the endeavour works. It never wears out its welcome, and it allows digressions that you might not normally get with a feature film. It also serves as a ‘greatest hits’ reel in a way in that everytime a video is posted you know you’re going to get something out of it. Paranormal Activity is like a Youtube series that has long boring sections while you’re waiting for the next video to start.
Kate and Micah live in a house Kate believes is possessed. Micah sets up a camera in their bedroom to record what happens. We see the end results.
One of the reasons the film doesn’t quite work is because it’s incredibly formulaic. The couple talk, they go to bed, the video plays in fast motion until it slows down which then prepares you for a scare. Rinse, repeat. It’s a horror film which all but puts up a sign saying “Here comes a scare!” and afterwards you get 2 unlikeable people arguing over it. Yes I know the same thing could be levelled at most if not all Horror films, but the problem here is that the rest of the film is so uninvolving that it’s easy to be dismissive. If your film features two characters the whole time then you need to do something to make them likeable and or believable, otherwise you’re just biding time until the next scare (And any impact the ending…well endings really seeing as there’s 4 of them, go for is diluted because the audience simply doesn’t care).
All of this brings me around to my point about Youtube. Had the film just been a Youtube series then I think I’d look upon it a lot more favourably. Cut it down into chunks so there’s just the scare scenes and you have something memorable, present the film in a series of videos (Night 1, Night 2 etc) and you’ll have something that people will pass around to their friends, something fun you might revisit on an October evening one year.
As for the endings. I prefer the more tragic ending included on the DVD (I’ll just say it’s the one with the Cops) than what was released to Cinemas. They’re all essentially variations on the same thing, but with little tweaks at the very end. Though from what I gather the alternate endings don’t link with what Paranormal Activity 2 has in store, which is I’m sure people being scared in nightvision In-Movie while people are filmed in nightvision watching it for TV commercials.
Up Next: Giant Crocodiles!