One of the movies required for my Readings In the Genre The Haunted class for my Masters of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University was Paranormal Activities.
I first watched this movie a couple of years ago while I was visiting my family and we weren’t terribly impressed with it then. I can’t say that watching it again for the second time was any better. There’s bound to be spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t seen the movie and you’d rather be surprised by what happens in the movie, you’re probably better off not reading this. You’ve been duly warned.
I remember when this movie first came out and there were so many people who firmly believed that this was genuine footage of actual supernatural happenings because there was no way that this movie portrayed special effects because how could they possibly do that? I’m not saying that I don’t believe in supernatural occurrences. I’m saying that Hollywood can do just about anything. While I do appreciate the attempt to draw the audience in with an experience that feels authentic because of the amateur video footage and the normal-looking special effects, I still know that this is a movie, produced for entertainment purposes and financial gain.
Some people might feel as though this sort of camera work lends credibility to the potential truth behind the story, but I felt that if this were real in any way that Katie and Meeka would have spent less time focused on the camera and more time focused on their own safety, or each other’s safety.
Meeka did have a couple really good ideas about how to verify the other presence, including sprinkling the white powder across the floor to see the footprints and setting up the audio and video recorder, but I spent most of the movie not liking him at all. One of the first things that struck me both times about Paranormal Activities is that the guy is a total arrogant dick. He spends the vast majority of the movie trying to antagonize and piss off whatever entity it is that is causing their supernatural occurrences in their house. In some ways, I’m sure he views himself as being Katie’s heroic protector, but really, he’s just making things worse by not asking for expert advise when it could have helped both of them. Because he’s too macho to ask for help. Maybe if I had liked Meeka better, I would have liked the movie better, but as it is, he was just too much of an arrogant dick for me to care about what happened to him.
One of the things that felt inconsistent to me was Katie and Meeka’s living environment. She’s a student, studying English and he’s a day trader and they live in this amazing house in San Diego and she drives a convertible. The entire movie, we only see them go out once, and it kind of feels like neither of them are real people. School, class, or work never comes up. Katie says she’s doing her homework once and she has a book, but it doesn’t seem like she’s very far into her studies. I do realize how ridiculous it is for me to sit here and critique the lack of reality in the lives of fake characters in a movie I really didn’t like, but I think it’s important for my own ability to tell stories to acknowledge the things that I find inconsistent in other works of fiction. Acknowledging inconsistency in other people’s work will hopefully make me more inclined to find those same potential faults in my own work and repair those mistakes. To be fair, Meeka really could have made a lot of money on a trade and that’s maybe how they could afford to live that kind of lifestyle in someplace as expensive as California, but that’s not what my own experience and my own feelings say about that situation.
After finishing the movie for the second time, there was a discussion about how there’s a lot in this world that doesn’t make sense and a lot that we just don’t know. The general consensus for us was that whether you believe in supernatural occurrences or not, it’s never a good idea to be a dick or to piss off other beings or entities in your life, especially if you don’t know what’s going on or what you’re doing. So all the times when Meeka decided to try and call out the entity hanging out in the house and following Katie around was probably a really bad plan. And inviting it in with the Ouija board was also a bad idea. He was warned multiple times about what kind of reaction that might create, but he still did it anyway. But then, horror stories aren’t told by the people who made the smart decisions. It’s not marketable entertainment if you see people actually being smart about how to deal with uncomfortable situations.
Which brings me to the idea behind marketable entertainment. People like this kind of movie because they want to feel fear. They want to feel terror. They want their heart to race and to hear the doors slam around them in full surround sound. Fear is one of the most base emotions that humans have and people want to feel alive. Fear is one of the easiest ways to invoke an emotional response because it appeals directly to the fight or flight part of the primal survival mechanism.
I think I’ve liked The Exorcism of Emily Rose the most from the movies that I’ve watched for this Readings In the Genre class. I think that movie did the best job of matching good, believable characters with frightening story and good special effects. The Exorcism of Emily Rose inspired just enough doubt in the plausibility of a medical explanation to create even just a fraction of belief in supernatural events whereas Paranormal Activities continued to feel like cheap Hollywood gimmicks to me.
Overall, this movie might barely make it to be a two on my rating scale. I’d rather not watch it again because I found it terribly annoying both times I watched it.