Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Not-So-Sweet Hereafter

There are two events in human history that have truly made me proud of my species. The first was when we put men on the Moon. The second happened just last year when society overwhelmingly favored the movie Paranormal Activity over what was previously thought to be a can't miss for that week's #1 movie slot, the latest Saw sequel. I hate the Saw movies. I hate the Saw movies more than I hate any real person. You can imagine my ecstasy last Halloween when I saw the weekend box office results and discovered that the independently made low budget Paranormal Activity had thoroughly crushed Saw VI. Mind you, I would have been happy if a pro-Nazi docu-drama called Wow, Wasn't Hitler Swell had beaten Saw VI but the fact that it was beaten by a movie I liked a lot was the sweet, buttercream icing on my schadenfreude cake. And now we have Paranormal Activity 2.

Oh yes, I did like Paranormal Activity 2. It's not quite as good as the first movie but it's still pretty good. I like the sequel for the same reasons I liked Paranormal Activity. In fact, a more apt title than Paranormal Activity 2 would be More of Paranormal Activity. That's a good thing.

The first movie was a triumph of minimalist, low budget filmmaking about a young California couple who slip into increasing levels of fear, frustration and despair when they come under siege from an evil spirit. Like Blair Witch Project, it was made to look like a documentary that the characters filmed themselves with a digital camera and was, in my opinion, the best movie to use that gimmick since Blair Witch.

The new movie is both a prequel and a sequel. Most of it takes place two months before the events of the first film with some bits at the end set in that film's aftermath. Katie and Micah, the doomed couple from the first film, are still alive and not possessed here but they're supporting characters now. Taking center stage is Katie's sister Kristi, her husband Dan and Dan's teenage daughter Ali. Dan and Kristi at first take a lot of home movies of their newborn son Hunter which allows us to see their lives up until their home is trashed by vandals. They think it's vandals anyway. That gives them the excuse to install security cameras in most rooms of the house and we once again see the slowly escalating supernatural invasion of their lives.

They give a bit more explanation this time around as to what it is and why it's literally giving this family hell, but the hell with that. It doesn't really matter why this ghost/demon/whatever is scaring and torturing these people. What matters is that this family is terrified and, sometimes, so are we. I normally don't read other critics' reviews before I write my own but I did read Ebert's and he thought it was a bad thing that most of the frights were from Gotcha Moments. That's true. For the most part, people are going about their lives when all of a sudden BAM all the kitchen drawers and cabinets open at once or BAM someone gets dragged down to the basement by an invisible force. Yes, those do happen but don't worry if you haven't seen it. The fact that you know they're coming won't help you prepare for them. You won't know when they're coming. Oh, you'll watch for them. Your eyes keep scanning up and down the screen looking for a shoe moving by itself or a pan falling from its hook for no reason but you won't know when that will happen. You just know it will.

The Gotcha Moments along with the sheer normalcy interrupted by the increasing feelings of dread and inevitable doom worked for me. If it doesn't sound like it will work for you, don't join the people who gave this movie a record breaking opening weekend. Hell, go see Saw VII this weekend instead. I'm sure their plot gimmick of killing people using Rube Goldberg inspired torture devices hasn't gotten old yet after 7 movies though, if you want to make me happy, this latest and supposedly last Saw film will once again be chopped up and spat out by a low budget psychological horror film whose initials are P.A.


Joe Barlow said...

I fully agree with your comments on PA2. It was a fine sequel to a groundbreaking original, and kept the creep factor high without losing the handmade charm that made the first film so memorable, unlike BLAIR WITCH 2.

Michael Clear said...

Blair Witch 2 actually had a clever start too. It's a shame it went downhill after that. I read your review and I was glad to see we pretty much agreed on everything. Together, we'll take down Roger Ebert and the rest of those rotten Tomatoes elites.