Tag Archives: Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)

ghost dimension

I’ve been trying to fill out my list of worst movies of the year, and the Paranormal Activity franchise has never failed to help me out in that regard.

And so it fills me with a mixture of glee and grief to declare that the sixth and final (really?) instalment, The Ghost Dimension, is indeed one of the worst films of 2015. What, you were expecting something else?

Where do I even start with this piece of found footage crap? Again, it’s about a family who loves to film absolutely everything for whatever reason. They move into a house and weird shit starts happening but they stick around and keep filming anyway and read old books that amazingly explain everything, until shit gets really crazy and they bring in a priest who miraculously knows exactly what to do, except he’s not much of a help, and they keep getting terrified while still filming until everyone gets possessed, dies or disappears.

The story, if you can call it that, is connected to the previous movies, not that I care or can remember. It’s the same thing every damn time anyway, but it’s cheap to make and it makes money, so that’s why I must endure this hell once again.

My problems with found footage films are well documented. Rather than trying to make things a little more realistic this time, Ghost Dimension actually embraces them more than ever. Honestly, I thought they would have thought of the idea of a camera fixed to a pair of glasses or something by now to make it a little less moronic, but of course it makes infinitely more sense for the protagonists to keep filming with the camera right in front of their eyes the entire time despite running for their lives, looking around for their missing child and peeking around while hiding from horrifying monsters. Smart move. Did I mention the film was made to be in 3D?

Ghost Dimension even goes a step beyond by  being even less scary than the previous instalments. Instead of good old fashioned apparitions and creepy atmosphere, the film goes for a combination of Insidious‘s idea of multiple dimensions, Poltergeist’s idea of a little girl getting abducted into another realm, and even — SPOILER for those who still give a shit by this point — time travel. I’m not making any of this up!

The only positive thing I can say about Ghost Dimension is that it at least met my expectations of what it was going to be like. As the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me six times, shame on Paranormal Activity.

1 star out of 5!

Movie Review: The Gallows (2015)

the gallows
The poster and the teaser trailers looked promising

Hory shet. Just when you thought found footage movies could not possibly get worse, here comes The Gallows, a strong contender for worst film of the year. I was stunned it got a theatrical release because you can grab any low budget horror movie off the video store shelf and it’ll be more watchable than this piece of shit.

The crazy thing is that the premise of the film isn’t that bad. In 1993, a school play called The Gallows results in the accidental death of a student when a prop error turned a fake hanging into a real one. Twenty years later, a new production gets underway, and a bunch of students end up trapped in the school as a malevolent force comes after them. There four main characters are: a footballer (Reese Mishler) who decides to star in the play so he can get close to his crush (Pfeifer Brown), his jackass friend who’s a bit of a bully and dickhead (Ryan Shoos), and the friend’s cheerleader girlfriend (Cassidy Gifford).

It’s not a great storyline, but it’s a workable one (if you ignore why the same school would ever want to stage the same production). And yet The Gallows manages to make the worst of it. For starters, it has no business being a found-footage film. It should have just been a “normal” horror film. Instead, the filmmakers had to come up with a lame excuse for some student to film everything. And yes, he films and films no matter what is happening. That alone makes the film lose all credibility, and what makes it worse is that the shoddy camerawork renders the visuals practically unwatchable. People who get nauseated from hand-held footage are warned watch at their own peril. Actually, that goes for people who don’t get nauseated from hand-held footage too.

Nothing makes sense. It makes no sense that a kid who has nothing to do with the school play would be filming it during rehearsals. It makes no sense why he would be filming when he’s badly hurt or running for his life. It makes no sense why they would want to break into school to trash the set. It makes no sense why some of the characters end up at the school with them. And it certainly makes no sense why anyone wanting to do something illegal would film the whole damn thing from start to finish. It’s one pathetic contrivance after another.

On top of all that, the film is not scary at all. Even ignoring that it’s just about impossible to follow what is happening on the screen at times, the tricks are ones we’ve seen a zillion times before. People freak out for no reason and walk around in silence for ages before some unseen entity snatches one of them into the darkness. Rinse and repeat.

Add to the dung heap a dose of bad acting, a lot of bad dialogue and completely undeveloped characters no one gives a shit about — oh and a laughably bad ending — and what you end up with is this sorry excuse for a movie that should never have seen the light of day. It may have been made on a shoestring budget of US$100,000, but that’s no excuse. It’s the worst. The worst.

0.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Area 51 (2015)

Area 51

There was a time I was semi-obsessed with Area 51, the alleged secret US military base in the Nevada desert where alien secrets dating back to Roswell are said to be stashed. And so I thought I’d give the film Area 51 with an attitude akin to how I approach UFO sightings these days — sceptical but hopeful.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be even worse than what I thought it would be. In short, Area 51 epitomises everything wrong with the found footage sub-genre. It uses every trite tactic in the book, looks cheap, feels cheaper, uses little-known actors to play stock characters spewing pathetic dialogue, and most of all, offers zero scares, thrills or creativity.

The premise is as formulaic as you imagined. A bunch of young people decide to break into Area 51 to uncover the alien conspiracy and government lies. Despite been terrified of getting caught and going to jail, they do a lot of stupid illegal stuff and record it all on cameras while complaining about it the whole time.

As it turns out, security at Area 51 is worse than your local supermarket, allowing the teens to get in with ease. They see a lot of lame stuff they try to trick you into thinking is impressive with their fake excitement and shock, before — you guessed it — aliens break out and start killing people.

The film’s whole idea of horror is people running around with shaky cameras while breathing loudly. That and brief glimpses of a “monster” before people are suddenly snatched away are pretty much the only two tactics of the entire movie. I guess I should not have been surprised given that it is directed by Oren Peli, whose previous directorial effort was the first Paranormal Activity.

The characters do stupid stuff and say stupid things non-stop, such as “What’s that noise?”, “Where’s that sound coming from?”, and my personal favourite, “Do you think we should be here?”

Shamefully, the film doesn’t even offer much legitimate information about the real Area 51, or at least what sources believe the place is like. Come on, at least educate us a little.

So yeah, Area 51 is a flaming turd, a combination of everything that annoys me about movies. I disliked it immensely.

1 star out of 5

Battle of the found-footage horrors: Devil’s Due (2014) vs Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

My disdain for found footage horror films is well documented. But as often is the case, I am gullible and always get sucked into watching more because people tell me “This one’s good”.

Apparently, two new ones released this year, Devil’s Due — basically a found footage version of Rosemary’s Baby — and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones — the gazillionth entry in the worst movie franchise of all time, are “good”, or at least “better” than the other ones, given the trash we’ve seen in recent years. To me, that’s like asking which animal’s turd smells the best.

And so I am surprised to say, both of these films are actually, genuinely, “better” than most found footage horrors I’ve seen over the years. Not to say they are good, but they’re not hair-pulling terrible for once. I’ve decided to pit the two against each other to see which one is less bad.

Devils Due (2014)

devil's due

I don’t agree with the idea that you can’t remake a classic like Rosemary’s Baby, and  I don’t have a problem with a semi-remake in the more contemporary found footage style. After all, I’ve seen the new Zoe Saldana mini-series remake that was released recently and it was atrocious, so I’m not against taking a fresher approach.

The premise is fairly typical — a young married couple head to the Dominican Republic for their honeymoon and are tricked/drugged by locals before participating in some kind of satanic ritual. And boom, the wife is pregnant, and the rest of the film plays out plot points that are eerily similar to Rosemary’s Baby, complete with the paranoia and the raw meat eating. The ending, to the filmmakers’ credit, is different, going for the sensational climax as opposed to Rosemary’s Baby’s muted horror. But it’s not better, with the special effects on the low-budget end, and the final scenes are about as cliched as they come.

If you haven’t seen Rosemary’s Baby then there might be something to take away from this film, even though the ending is nowhere near as chilling. The acting is not bad and there are some genuinely creepy moments that are by and large better than the scares you get from the Paranormal Activity franchise. And while it is strictly speaking a straight-up horror flick there is a sense of fun and humour injected throughout.

But my two main problems with the film are: (1) the story is too derivative; and (2) it struggles, like most found-footage films do, to justify the constant use of hand-held cameras. I liked the idea of splicing the footage with CCTV and security cameras, etc, but there’s just no logical explanation why anyone would keep filming in circumstances the characters find themselves in. It takes away the realism the film is trying so hard to achieve.

2.5 stars out of 5

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Paranormal-Activity-The-Marked-Ones-Poster

I don’t know what’s more frightening: the fact that they’ve made yet another Paranormal Activity movie or that the franchise is so successful that they are now making spin-offs. Either way, we’ve got one, and it’s arguably better than all the other ones.

As I understand it, The Marked Ones is the first in the franchise that departs from the same old “haunted house” formula, but it still could not help itself from being somehow tied to the convoluted storyline that involves the woman with the big boobs (Katie Featherston) from all the other entries in the series. The reason they made it was to appeal to the Latin American market, but the vast majority of the film is in English.

The plot focuses on a bunch of Latino teenagers in California who break into a neighbour’s apartment following a murder. In there they find some weird shit, including VHS tapes and journals containing spells. Of course, strange things start to happen to the characters from there, including superhuman strength, behavioural abnormalities and other paranormal activity ripped straight from the X-Files. They investigate, stuff gets escalated, and eventually the shit hits the fan. What a surprise.

The reason I liked it a little more than the others is because it feels different. I never found the original Paranormal Activity all that scary, but there were at least some decent moments. By the time you got to the second, third and fourth films, there was never anything new. It was always the boring formula of filler, filler filler, false alarm scare, filler, filler filler filler, false alarm scare, filler filler filler, crazy screaming ending. Always.

The Marked Ones throws a bit more of a curved ball at audiences, with hints of witchcraft and occurrences that take place outside of the usual confined space of the family home. The tricks are not all that creative — it’s the typical gradual “possession” narrative — but at least they breathe life into a franchise that never really had much to begin with. There were a few more unexpected scares as well, plus the occasional successful attempt at generating a creepy atmosphere, though on the whole I still feel like I wasted 84 minutes of my life.

It’s not clear why the kids had to film everything even when they are scared out of their pants, but by this stage it’s pointless to ask.

2 stars out of 5

PS: I’d avoid both, but if I had to make a decision I’d say Devil’s Due gets the nod over The Marked Ones (but at least it still earned the best rating I’ve ever given to a Paranormal Activity film).

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

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)

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

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity (2009)

paranormal_activity_poster

Paranormal Activity is the latest ‘is it real or not?’, low-budget horror movie pieced together with supposed amateur home video footage.  Think The Blair Witch Project for haunted houses.

While I liked the overall idea and it’s by no means a terrible film, Paranormal Activity didn’t really do it for me.  Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to be scared.  It did have its moments, but certainly isn’t the ‘scariest’ or ‘most terrifying’ movie of all time (or even the year) as it has been hyped up to be.

The footage begins when young couple Micah and Katie, living together in a fairly nice suburban house, decide to get a video camera to capture the paranormal activity they have been experiencing.  There is a bit of a back story and you get to know the characters are little through footage of their daily lives, but I found these to be time fillers than any real effort to allow the audience to get to know, and perhaps even care about, these people.

Like The Blair Witch Project, the tension in Paranormal Activity is built up slowly and gradually, with the intent of blowing the audience away with a ripper of an ending.  However, even at only 86 minutes, it felt like nothing was happening for a really long time.  A few bumps in the night, a few eerie things here and there, but for the most part they seemed like relatively minor incidents that were met with overreaction.  I understand director and writer Oren Peli’s intention to build an atmospheric film that utilises dread rather than cheap scares, but I spent much of the movie wishing something would actually happen.  I will say, though, that there were a couple of pretty cool things that happened towards the end, but unfortunately the final sequences weren’t as chilling as I had hoped.**

The film’s biggest problem, from which most of its other problems stemmed, was the restrictive nature of its format.  Of course, as the audience, you only get to see what has recorded by the inhabitants of the house.  But that raises some very difficult obstacles.  How much can you reasonably expect someone who is being terrified by demons to tape everything that happens to them?  Do you go the realistic route and miss out on some of the action?  Or do you come up with forced excuses to make them take the video camera everywhere and record everything?  Either way, the film suffers.

To its credit, Paranormal Activity tries to reach some sort of balance between the two extremes.  As the inhabitants actually set out to capture and document the haunting, a camera is set up in the bedroom and runs throughout the night, and that is when most of the creepy stuff happens.  In my opinion, that was by far the cleverest idea in the film.  Every time the bedroom cam is set up and the residents to go bed, I start to swell up with anticipation as the clock fast forwards to when ‘stuff’ happens.  Occasionally, they venture out of the bedroom in hand-held mode, but thankfully the footage is not as shaky or nauseating as it could have been.

However, what this system also means is that some scenes are left to your imagination because you can’t see what is going on – sometimes that may be more frightening, but that’s not always the case in this movie.  It also means that at least one of the characters has to be a totally unreasonable prick so the camera can be kept running, but it gets to the point where it becomes a stretch.  With this type of film format, you just have to take the good with the bad.

Paranormal Activity also suffers from a few other issues.  This kind of film thrives on the gullibility of the audience.  The more you believe it is real, the scarier it becomes.  The problem is, while both leads were adequate, there were a couple of occasions where they felt unnatural.  Could be the dialogue or the acting, but I wasn’t convinced I was watching authentic footage.  One of the reasons why The Blair Witch Project was so successful was because it misled people into believing that the footage was real.  The film was presented and marketed as authentic.  10 years later, this has become a lot more difficult to accomplish, and as a result Paranormal Activity doesn’t have quite the same impact as its predecessor.

In the end, Paranormal Activity is a film worth watching simply because it is fresh and not done very often.  And to be fair, it also has some solid, atmospheric moments.  That said, lower your expectations if you want to be genuinely frightened.

3 stars out of 5!

** Apparently there are at least 3 alternative endings for this film, and I don’t quite think the one released in the cinemas is the best one.  See here for more details.

PS: a sequel is already in the works thanks to the success of the film, which is already the most successful independent film ever in terms of return on investment.  Let’s just hope the sequel is at least watchable, unlike that dreadful sequel to Blair Witch which I still rank up there as one of the worst sequels of all time.