Tagged Sequels

Paranormal Activity’s Modern Hauntings

Paranormal Activity. 2007. Directed & Written by Oren Peli.
Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, and Ashley Palmer. Solana Films/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 86 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
paranormalactivity_posterWhen done correctly, I am a huge fan of found footage. Whether it’s using the thriller style, as I recently enjoyed in the film 419, or horror (The Blair Witch Project, Cannibal HolocaustHome Movie, and many more), I believe that if a director uses the sub-genre appropriately then it can be extremely effective. Particularly, horror movies using found footage can end up having a huge impact if it isn’t simply a gimmick, or a wasted tool in the director’s arsenal.
Even further than that, a writer (or writers) needs to know the limitations of the sub-genre, as well as where it can go. Too many writers seem to let the screenplay of a found footage film fall by the wayside, like it isn’t an important aspect so much as the visuals prove to be. Very bad way to look at ANY genre or sub-genre; you always need a good script, or at least an impressive idea to work from.
There are things I do love about Paranormal Activity, while I’ve got a gripe or two, as well. Mostly, I think Oren Peli really did an excellent job as director in cultivating an impressive piece of modern horror. He singlehandedly changed the found footage game, in my mind, after the originals left their highly impressive (and better) mark – like The Blair Witch Project and the infamous, controversial Cannibal Holocaust. Now there are plenty of others, since this film’s release in 2007, trying to work off the simple yet excellent format Peli landmarked.
This is not a perfect horror, nor is it my favourite found footage film. However, I’ve got to say that when I first saw Paranormal Activity – and to this day – there were elements and scenes which really unsettled me greatly and left a lasting impression on me. I don’t think, as a veteran in watching films and TONS of horror, that I’m easily frightened. But genuinely, at times, I found myself clenching up. Not to say I wept in terror or curled into a ball. Though, I can readily admit my muscles tightened and my heart rate pumped fast in several scenes, which is all due to the acting of the two leads and the good work of writer-director Oren Peli.
paranormalactivity1I won’t waste time relating the plot. This is one of those movies we ALL know about; if not, head over to IMDB or Wikipedia and it’s laid out pretty well. I’d like to just move into the things I liked/disliked about the movie.
An aspect of the screenplay I truly do love is how the character of Micah antagonizes the presence in their home. Starting early on, within the first fifteen minutes even, Micah begins to make fun of the whole concept of some spirit (or whatever) in the house; he plays creepy music, saying he’d like to make the presence feel at home. I always like when a story incorporates scepticism in an interesting way; Micah is a part of that, as he pretty much riles up the thing in their house.
Otherwise, one of the greatest parts in my mind about Peli’s Paranormal Activity is that the effects really started to push the envelope for found footage. Since 2007 there have been plenty more found footage films which used effects to a greater degree, but at the time this came as sort of revolutionary for the sub-genre. Before this movie, and those which followed it (both sequels and other films imitating this style), most found footage horror tended to go for the lost in the woods scenario, adding in tons of shaky cam and screaming and blood/gore here or there. Peli came along and decided to keep the camera stationary almost all of the time, which really helped, and on top of that he tried as best he could to do as much practically as possible, as well as the great majority of the film is centred so much on the relationship between Katie and Micah.
Keeping the camera in one place the way he does, Peli is able to let us relax a bit and get more into the characters and the story/plot than other found footage allows us. As I said, the shaky cam is prevalent in many other films similar to this. Even the amazing Blair Witch Project, there are a couple nearly nausea inducing sequences where the characters are running, screaming, and the camera is jostling around along with their movements; to the point where it’s tough to follow anything. Luckily, that was one of the first real found footage horror movies where shaky cam became a thing, so at the time it wasn’t really overdone.
Paranormal-Activity-3Nowadays with so many less exciting films than that trying to read in its huge footsteps, we get too many horrors using found footage and throwing in the shaky cam as a legitimate portion of the film when in fact it only detracts from the end product; we’re tired and sick of the shakiness, it’s not simply low budget and realistic it makes things look lazy. In Paranormal Activity, Peli foregoes that nonsense and allows us to get into the relationship between Katie and Micah, watching their lives unfold instead of constantly having one of them manipulate the camera, moving it around, and so on. Though Micah absolutely holds the camera at times, it’s not him running around and catching nothing except blurs. Whenever he does move it, the moment is brief, or at the least Micah is usually standing in one place. I think, albeit probably an obvious touch, Peli does his film a great service by allowing the camera to stay still a lot of the time. That way, his story comes out further, the characters are more interesting, and the plot is able to move along without the audience becoming totally unnerved (not in the right way) by the camera movement constantly shaking us out of touch with what’s happening in the film.
For this reason, as well as the fact effects are incorporated in a fresh way (not saying they’re spectacular; merely they were slightly new to this sub-genre), I truly feel Peli broke new, interesting ground with his found footage horror movie. Not only did it spawn a series of sequels, a whole franchise, Paranormal Activity – in a different way from its predecessors – had other filmmakers looking to do a low-budget horror almost copycatting everything about it.
They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery; in this case, I think it’s mostly about cashing in.
still-of-katie-featherston-in-paranormal-activity-(2007)-large-pictureFinally, it’s the acting from Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston which truly got to me. I think Sloat did a good enough job, especially in terms of being the sceptical and doubting boyfriend; he isn’t completely ignorant and arrogant in his speech, mostly he brings this aspect across through his coy, annoyingly playful demeanour. He certainly acts like a bit of a douchebag, but I think that’s almost definitely the right way for Micah to seem, as a character – it brings out that doubt very clearly for all to see.
Above all else, it’s Featherston who sells this film from start to finish. I like the character herself; she’s been followed all her life, basically, by some kind of spirit, an entity. Not that it’s a new idea. It’s how Featherston plays the character, the innocence she always seems to display and this naive but concerned nature in her. While Katie is the one who believes in it all, there’s still this naivety about her in that she’s holding onto the innocent part of herself, even while this demon/spirit/entity has latched onto her and won’t leave her, or Micah, alone. The way Featherston performs is incredible, unbelievably actually in the final half hour. Once things start getting very intense and claustrophobic in their little house, Featherston does a perfect job portraying all the terror Katie is feeling; there’s one moment where she tells Micah she feels something in the hallway, and I honestly got a fright just out of the urgency in her voice, the look in her eyes. Amazing job and makes Paranormal Activity all the better for it; anyone else would probably not have been enough. Featherston pushed this film above a ton of other found footage out there with subpar acting and lazy characters.
Paranormal-ActivityWith an undeniably horrifying final 15 minutes, I can definitely say this is a 4 out of 5 star film. There could’ve been a little more in certain parts, but overall this is an excellent modern horror. I’m not saying this will send you to bed cowering under the covers like when we were children. What I am saying is that Oren Peli did a good job directing this, as opposed to so many shaky useless found footage efforts, and he tried to instil the film with as much practicality (from plot to effects) as possible.
This is a slow burn type of horror film, in my opinion. It does well building up tension, in part that’s due to excellent actors, and in the end there’s a massively satisfying and creepy conclusion. Love the end and watching this for the first time since its release 8 years ago, I must admit I like the film more than I’d originally thought.

WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END – Rollins Reality Show Ushers in Sleazy Backwoods Bloodletting

Another WRONG TURN, another bunch of blood and guts. This sequel's actually not so bad.

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WRONG TURN’s Freaky Backwoods Cannibal Horror

Wrong Turn. 2003. Directed by Rob Schmidt. Screenplay by Alan McElroy. Starring Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto, Kevin Zegers, Lindy Booth, Julian Richings, Gary Robbins, Ted Clark, Yvonne Gaudry, and Wayne Robson. Summit Entertainment. Rated R. 84 minutes. Horror.

★★★WrongTurnIn my last review, for the 2009 Indonesian gorefest Macabre, I mentioned how there are a plethora of ‘cannibal family in the woods’ films, especially in the past decade since 2003’s Anchor Bay remake of Tobe Hooper’s classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. There have been so many movies that copied TCM, but like Macabre there are also a lot of solid efforts in the horror field which emulate and pay homage instead of trying to cover all the same ground.
Wrong Turn, released in the same year as the aforementioned remake of Hooper’s low budget masterpiece, is a film that certainly has its roots in TCM and no doubt there are bits that remind people of it. However, Rob Schmidt’s backwoods horror film does enough to separate it from the carbon copies with some decent acting, creepy characters, and several intense kills, and though it isn’t a great movie it is a head above so many lame, boring cannibal horror movies flooding the theatre these past dozen years.

Wrong Turn begins as Chris Flynn (Dexter‘s Desmond Harrington) travels through West Virginia. On a backroad, he accidentally slams into a vehicle. Chris discovers the vehicle belongs to a group of friends – Jessie (Eliza Dushku), Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Scott (Jeremy Sisto), Evan (Kevin Zegers), and Francine (Lindy Booth). After they make sure Chris is all right, the group discovers someone threw a trap into the road: a length of spiked metal and barbed wire designed to blow tires out. They wander around for awhile looking for some way to call for help, or anything that might give them a hand. The group comes across a sort of shanty-house out in the woods. Chris decides to head inside, followed by some of the others. Meanwhile, Evan and Francine are murdered as they wait back at the car. Soon enough the inbred cannibalistic murderers who live in the shanty, One-Eye (Ted Clark), Saw-Tooth (Garry Robbins), and Three Finger (Julian Richings) return, with the body of Francine in tow, and the rest of the group do their best to hide where they can in the house. The horror has only just begun.
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Probably one of the best things Wrong Turn has going for it overall is the fact that Dushku, Harrington, and Sisto are three pretty solid actors. Not that the others aren’t – Emmanuelle Chriqui is probably the only good thing about Entourage – but those three are actors I’ve enjoyed in other things, and they help to carry the emotionality and tension needed in a horror film. So many horrors, especially ones similar to this involving good amounts of blood/guts and disturbing material (inbred cannibal murderers & no doubt they like to rape), suffer due to poor acting. Because a lot of low budget horror gets put out, maybe more so than any other genre, many of those films end up with unknown actors. And unknown actors are fine, as long as they can act. Many times in horror, I think low budget outings try and make up for the acting in other ways, but the fact is you need good actors to sell the emotions and complexity of a horror film. Even if it’s one about inbred cannibals in the woods of West Virginia.
Perhaps my favourite part of the film is when Scott (Jeremy Sisto) tries to calm his fiancee Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) after their first close encounter with the cannibals. He tells her: “We’re going home, we’re gonna get married, all right? And we are never going into the woods again.” In another movie, this might’ve come off too sentimental and cheesy, but Sisto really sells it the way it’s meant to go, and Chriqui does well acting off of him. This is just one instance of some actual decent acting, which often times gets left at the door in (too) many horror movies. The weak links are no doubt Kevin Zegers and Lindy Booth, but luckily there isn’t much screen time for them until they meet a grisly, bloody end.
mountain-men-wrong-turn-2003-The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is, and always will be, one of the scariest films I’ve personally ever seen with my two eyes. Something about it hit me right in the correct scary spots. What I like about Wrong Turn in comparison is how it doesn’t opt to have this family of cannibals act with any semblance of organization, outside of the fact they’ve got a house and they have not been discovered/caught. In TCM it isn’t as if Leatherface and the clan are criminal masterminds or anything, but Drayton Sawyer at least has a job, he appears as a member of the Texan community, and this is all a part of how the family does their business. With Wrong Turn, these nasty boys are just a bunch of savage monsters; they live in the hills and take whoever they can from off the roads to fill their pots of stew and their freezer. It works because the actors who are playing Three Finger, Saw-Tooth, and One-Eye sell their characters so well.
I think the scene where the group of friends has to hide in the old shanty while the boys arrive home is a great one. Very tense, lots of quiet suspense. The point where one of the cannibals tosses Francine’s body to the floor, wrapped in metal and barbed wire, dead, bloody, is rough – in the best way possible. That whole scene really set things up for the moment where Chris and the others flee the house, into the woods, and the cannibals wake up from their nap. Honestly, it reminded me of a twisted version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”.
movies-wrong-turnNot near a perfect horror, I can still honestly give Wrong Turn 3.5 out of 5 stars. You can do much worse than watch this movie if you’re looking for something with a decent bit of gore, quality acting, and a nice handful of thrills. Plus, the inbred cannibals are terrifying. The best way, for me personally, to enjoy these types of ‘survival horror’ movies or the ‘backwoods horror’ stuff is to try and put yourself in the shoes of the characters – how would you truly react? Me, I would run, and scream, and cry, and probably ruin my pants. I’d probably be the first to die, or close to first. That’s why Wrong Turn creeps me out so hard, though it has flaws, and another reason The Texas Chain Saw Massacre does a number on my head because I imagine myself in those scenarios, how bad it would be. The acting is good from the lead characters, the make-up effects and gore is a lot of fun, the cannibals scare the hell out of me – check this out if you haven’t. The entire series is not up to par, but there are definitely a couple decent ones in my opinion, at least better than so much of the other generic crap being funnelled into theatres and straight-to-video/VOD. Worth the time to enjoy some internal organs and terrifying, inbred murderers.