Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

December 14, 2010 in Movie Reviews

I think I’ve found my “worst film of 2010”.

This was unexpected for me, as I am a lover of horror films, especially supernatural ones.  I also like the idea of the “found footage” film, like The Blair Witch Project and I particularly liked The Last Exorcism this year.  I found the original Paranormal Activity to be less than inspiring — there were some good bits, but for the most part, the film was tedious and boring to me.  Too many pointless time-fillers between scares and the slow pace were not enough to make up for the spooky climax and horrific ending.

However, according to some accounts, Paranormal Activity 2 is better than the original.  With more experience, a proper script and a bigger budget, I was expecting an upgrade.

Talk about a letdown.  Paranormal Activity 2 is a prequel that basically recycles the idea of the first film — and throws crap all over it.  For those who haven’t seen the original, I won’t reveal too much, but essentially it’s about a haunting of a suburban house that escalates over time.  Last time it was a couple; this time it’s a family of four, plus a dog.

Like the original, nothing happens for most of the film, with a few extremely minor incidents trying to pass off as scares.  Even worse than the original is the fact that nothing notable happens until the final 15 minutes.  For the rest of the 91-minute running time, I was just waiting and waiting, hoping for something — anything.  It was like watching a very long episode of America’s boringest home videos.

The premise of the film made little sense to me.  In the first one, the couple decided to film everything because they thought the house may have been haunted.  In the sequel, the family decides to install surveillance cameras in just about every room of the house — and that’s where we get most of the footage — because of a burglary.  I’m sorry, but don’t people install security alarms to prevent burglars?  What is the point of putting on surveillance cameras all around the house — so you can see what has been stolen?  And correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen home surveillance cameras that can also capture crystal clear sound.

More annoying is the hand held camera footage.  Sure, families sometimes like to film stuff, especially when there is a baby — but why would anyone film things like: having an emotional conversation with a sibling, having a casual phone conversation with a friend, or when doing research on a computer?  I understand we need to learn things in order for the plot to progress, but when the footage frequently stretches the credibility of the film, that’s a big problem.

Speaking of credibility, the performances were less than convincing.  When the best actor in the entire film is the family’s dog, you know you’re in trouble.  And I won’t even start with the stereotypical Latino maid that happens to know everything about demons, including exactly how to get rid of them.

In my opinion, the reason the first film was so successful was not just because it was a clever idea — it was because a lot of people wondered whether the footage was actually real, or at least thought it felt real, which made everything in it much scarier than it really was.  Obviously, with the exception of a few, most people know that Paranormal Activity 2 is totally made up, which is okay, as long as they upped the scares.  But if anything, Paranormal Activity 2 was less scary than the original.

The scariest thing about the whole thing?  Paramount Pictures have announced that they are releasing another one next year.

1 star out of 5 (For being able to tie in the original film.  And the dog.)

Movie Review: The Last Exorcism (2010)

December 6, 2010 in Movie Reviews

I guess it was only a matter of time before they did a mockumentary on exorcisms, but surprisingly, The Last Exorcism, directed by Daniel Stamm and produced by Eli Roth, is actually very good.

It is an edited “found footage” movie in the vein of The Blair Witch Project that tells the story of Louisiana preacher Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), who comes from a long line of “exorcists”.  Naturally, Marcus is not a true believer, and to prove his point, he takes part in this documentary (which explains the film crew) — and of course, the one case he picks up at random turns out to be a genuine case of demonic possession — or is it?

For the most part, The Last Exorcism comes across as pretty authentic for a film of this kind.  The screenplay is rock solid with great dialogue and compelling characters, especially the smug Reverend.  It does an excellent job of raising questions about the truthfulness of the possession (and possession and exorcism in general) and cleverly creates several alternative possibilities and suspects to keep audiences intrigued.

The scares were fairly good — not as terrifying as the original Exorcist (what film is?) but there is decent tension and the aversion to cheap scares only adds to the realism.  The best thing about the film is that the non-scary bits are also fun to watch and not just time-fillers for the next fright (unlike say Paranormal Activity).

However, I did say “for the most part” because The Last Exorcism could not entirely escape the tendency for horror films to fall apart at the end.  The film’s authenticity was thrown out the window as it headed towards the climax, with the single hand-held camera occasionally discarded for quick cuts and close ups from different angles, and additional sound effects added in for…effect.  If you’re really into the movie you probably won’t notice, but for the more astute viewer it’s a bit of a distractiion.

The final scenes were also an unexplained mess that felt rushed and incomplete — some might say it adds to the authenticity of “found footage” and promotes discussion, but to me it was unsatisfying and needed to be fleshed out more.

Having said that, The Last Exorcism is still one of the best-made horror films of the year.

4 stars out of 5