OCTOBER 10, 2012
Until Apartment 143 came along, if one were to say "that movie about ghost hunters starring the guy from Caddyshack" they could only be referring to Ghostbusters. But Danny himself, Michael O'Keefe, stars as the leader of the paranormal research team investigating the events in this movie - he even has a Venkman-ish air of skepticism and dryness to him, leading me to suspect at least one of the producers purposely cast one of Bill Murray's former co-stars.
And before you call it a stretch, you should watch this movie, because taking things past credulity is sort of their MO. Few "found footage" movies have ever been as guilty of the "why are you filming?" problem as this - at one point a guy films the hero trying to grab his daughter, who is being held in the air by some supernatural force, and despite seemingly being closer to the girl he just stands there, filming the struggle and not acting like any human being ever would. They're also clairvoyant, I guess, because there's more than one instance where the cameraman will pan over to a ceiling or wall BEFORE the scary thing happens. How did he know where to look?
All of this adds to the fact that there is no need for this movie to be a mock doc. It's not a particularly good script anyway, so the least they could do is shoot it normally so that they weren't adding to the problems. With the cameras either being operated by people who don't act like logical human beings or mounted on a wall, there wasn't one instance where I "got" why this HAD to be a found footage film, beyond the obvious benefit of joining a very hot (but way overpopulated) sub-genre. Even the pacing doesn't fit - it's actually kind of action packed, but with the cramped sets and limited camera range (they can't go for a wide shot or anything really cinematic), it's kind of wasteful. That said, I was pretty impressed with the FX work during the two biggest scare scenes; one where the ghost tears apart the house, and the climax where it destroys MORE of the house and begins flinging everyone around at random. It's just a shame we can't really get the full scope of what's happening because everything is from a hand-held camera, operated by someone who always makes sure to pan over and get reaction shots from every other person in the world as if he wasn't in any danger himself.
I also wondered why it wasn't an infomercial for a "Ghost Hunting Deluxe Kit" or something, because I swear Rodrigo Cortes wrote the script specifically to prove to the audience how much he knew about the various equipment such folks use (perhaps he learned it all while researching the far more interesting Red Lights). Every 5 minutes, the movie stops cold while one of the research folks explains a particular piece of equipment to one of the family members, which proves to be good timing as it's usually the thing used in the next big scare. It's like one of those video games where you get a new weapon and suddenly every enemy or obstacle requires you to use that weapon, despite having traveled pretty far and killed lots of things without ever needing it.
And that's the funny thing about the movie - we don't even really need these guys at all. They had the makings of a perfectly decent possession/ghost movie, as the plot itself is actually pretty good - a father is trying to repair his family after the death of his wife, and now they're being menaced by what may be her ghost. Hell they could even work in the video thing if they were so hellbent on it - maybe the dad bought it to take some home movies after realizing that his wife is gone and the younger son won't have any memories of her. But by adding in a team of ghost hunters (actually we meet them first), the movie can't ever focus on the family unit acting "normal". It'd be like if Poltergeist didn't have the first hour or so until Dr. Lesh and the others showed up - there's just nothing for us to really latch onto. By the time the father explains the circumstances of his wife's death, we're already sick of people giving gobs of exposition in between generic fright scenes. It's a movie, SHOW US these things.
In short, if you've seen any of the Paranormal Activity knockoffs in the past couple years, it's a good chance you've seen one that's better than this. All of its good ideas are buried beneath an overpopulated cast, a completely unthoughtful approach to the documentary aesthetic, and too many generic scares (the last one in particular is like a "fuck you" to anyone who made it that far). But don't worry, I'm sure next week will provide another attempt at stealing some of PA's thunder (not to mention - sigh - another sequel).
What say you?