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You Can’t Always Get What You Haunt
by Dan Fields
First published October 19, 2012 by the California Literary Review
It is almost Halloween, which means time for one more Paranormal Activity at least. This year the ghost train (or demonorail) has broken out of Carlsbad and turned up in lovely suburban Nevada. Apart from that, little has changed. In most respects, this franchise has even gone back a few paces. So much for the train metaphor.
For those who came in late: Paranormal Activity is the continuing saga of a family whose long history with the occult has led to a spate of possessions, polter-violence, and vigilant home surveillance. Series creator and producer Oren Peli constructed the concept around handily placed cameras capturing “true life” hauntings with a seemingly bottomless barrel of visual tricks. Now, however, one can hear distinct scraping sounds as the bottom comes into view. Continue reading
by Dan Fields
First published May 26, 2012 by the California Literary Review
Chernobyl Diaries is not great art. Chernobyl Diaries is not important cinema. It will probably win neither awards nor memorable acclaim. What it is, though, is a robust specimen of a very particular kind of movie. It is a midnight movie. It is a drive-in flick. It is a B-movie in the most favorable sense. It was made to be seen in as crowded and rowdy a theater as possible. It aspires to nothing more clever or edifying than exactly that. It has plenty of scares, weird atmosphere, and drawn-out suspense to fill its running time. At least once, your heart will pound in anticipation of something awful. And is that not precisely what you paid for? Continue reading
by Dan Fields
First published October 22, 2011 by the California Literary Review
Paranormal Activity 3 was inevitable. This is the horror franchise that people love to hate, but still keep paying to see. Rather than introduce another parallel timeline to the first two chapters, this movie serves as a full-blown prequel. We will now witness the harrowing events of 1988, when protagonists Kristi and Katie were little girls together. As it turns out, they have already been through the familiar regimen of being taped while they sleep. When troublesome things stir in the night, the girls’ video-geek stepfather Dennis decides to capture and track the phenomena with nightly surveillance footage. In other words, he assumes the same role as Micah Sloat in the first film, only working in analog, and for the record is far less irritating a character.
em>Paranormal Activity 2 was an interlocking piece of the original Paranormal Activity. Part 3 is more of a tangential riff. All this footage apparently made up a box of home videos stolen from Kristi’s house, which burglary prompted the setup of their home security system in Part 2. How or why we are seeing these old tapes is a total mystery, and it makes everything just a little bit weirder and more interesting. This new entry has a lot of problems, but it is easily the best of the films so far. If this had stood alone and been released by itself as Paranormal Activity, a lot of us would not be so down on the franchise as we are.
by Dan Fields
First published October 23, 2010 by the California Literary Review
If you are investigating Paranormal Activity 2, either as an audience member or simply a reader of reviews, you probably exposed yourself to the original Paranormal Activity, a monumental disappointment made in 2007 and unleashed on most of America during the summer and fall of 2009. There are two ways to look at a franchise like this. The first is to wonder why audiences keep falling for the “scariest movie ever made” marketing campaign. The less cynical (and probably more correct) attitude is to consider the appeal of getting a bunch of friends together to act rowdy and ridicule a film like this. The audience seems to be in on the joke, but I don’t think the makers of the movie are. I think they sincerely intended this film to be taut, edgy, and full of terror.
The director establishes the familiar false documentary format with home videos of a family moving into their new home. Meet Kristi, the sister of poor Katie from the first Paranormal Activity. She has a lovely house, a clean-cut teenage stepdaughter, a generally inoffensive dork of a husband, a faithful German Shepherd, and a sweet new baby boy named Hunter. It’s the modern, upper middle class ideal family, perhaps like the ones in your own neighborhood. We know these are real, ordinary people because they talk and act just like real, ordinary people, not like carefully written movie characters. Because that’s interesting, right? Wrong. People trying hard to act like regular people is boring and stupid. There, I’ve said it. It was the biggest failing of the first Paranormal Activity, and it doesn’t help here.