Yesterday, my boyfriend and I checked out the much-hyped, beyond low-budget ($15,000—damn, my line of credit balance is higher!) supernatural flick, Paranormal Activity. Already considered a phenomenon by critics and audiences alike (and with a $75 million box office return to date), I was looking forward to seeing this reportedly suspenseful and fright-filled Halloween treat in an atmospheric and darkened theater. Instead I found myself somewhat tricked by the flick, not to mention disappointed and surprisingly frustrated.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the movie. But while it has its fair share of what-the-hell-is-going-to-happen-next moments, like many horror films P.A. suffers from having an idiot as one of its major characters. And when a film essentially only has two main characters, and one of them turns out be an arrogant moron, then (for me at least) I tend to find myself cheering for the wrong character (“Goooooo demon!”) which I don’t think is the film maker’s intention.
Paranormal Activity is essentially a haunted house film about a couple (Katie and Micah) who moves into a new home and soon discovers that they may not be the only occupants there. As things continue to (more or less) go bump in the night, Micah sets up a video camera in the couple’s bedroom in order to capture on tape any ghostly nocturnal activity that may be going on during regular sleeping hours.
In addition to that, a paranormal researcher comes to the home for a consultation; while he admits that there’s nothing he can do for the couple, he highly recommends that Katie and Micah contact a well-renowned demonologist who can help, since what appears to be responsible for the present haunting is in all likelihood a demon who’s been in pursuit of Katie since her childhood.
Up to this point, the movie has intelligently and realistically folded. It’s also at this point that the movie derails courtesy of Micah’s sudden behavioral transformation from caring, sensitive boyfriend into a controlling, selfish, stubborn, obnoxious, unthinking Neanderthal concerned more with pissing off the demon than protecting his girlfriend; she essentially takes on the role of demon bait. Imagine being the Damsel in Distress only to discover that the Village Idiot is in charge of rescuing you?
Micah does everything in his power to aggravate the demon (verbally taunting it in an attempt to have it reveal itself, which of course wouldn’t accomplish anything anyway; offending it with the introduction of a Ouija board, etc…) and eventually succeeds; but that genius achievement comes at a high price.
Katie’s not much better but she can be somewhat forgiven, what with having to deal with the attentions of a stalking demon at night and an idiot for a boyfriend during the day. Mental and physical exhaustion like that would eventually take a toll on anyone; so instead of continuing to fight Micah on every new hare-brained idea of his, she tolerates (not to be confused with humors) him to the point of effortlessly sealing both of their fates.
So here’s where my frustration comes in. After an expert in paranormal activity advises you that there is (not even MAY be) a demon-on-a-mission in your house (we’re not talking Casper the Friendly Ghost here either) and gives you the phone number of a demonologist, wouldn’t you call the guy immediately? Sure, Micah’s paranormal skepticism and Tarzan-like protectionism where his girlfriend is concerned makes sense at first but after a few nights of increasingly horrifying demon shenanigans, captured on tape, no less, wouldn’t he be inclined to take a chance on a professional’s expertise? Last time I checked, an exorcism doesn’t exactly scream DIY. And if Katie fully realizes that she is the reason the demon is in the house, why wouldn’t she phone the demonologist herself, rather than bitching to Micah two weeks after the fact that she should have?
Eventually Katie does call the demonologist and when she can’t reach him she brings back the paranormal expert a second time. He’s in the house no more than 20 seconds before sensing the evil (and very irritated) demonic housemate, and hightails it out of there fast; but not before sharing with Katie and Micah that the demonologist will be back in a few days and that they should absolutely contact him before it’s too late.
Did I mention the part about the paranormal expert not being able to get out of Katie and Micah’s house FAST ENOUGH? So even if it’s inevitable that the demon will eventually track Katie down, wouldn’t it be an idea to maybe play hide and seek (in a hotel room as high up as possible) until the demonologist is back in town? Or maybe go stay with friends who live in a high-rise? After all, when was the last time a haunting took place in either a condo or an apartment? Or why not treat yourself to a spa weekend (far enough) away? Or how about the nearest homeless shelter?
I may be making more out of this than necessary (consider me momentarily possessed by frustration) but had Paranormal Activity shaken its own demons by considering a few more what-would-an-intelligent-person-do options before its inevitable conclusion, then that could have been the difference between a good film and a classic.