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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Frenzy on the Wall: I’m Not Scared of Slamming Doors

Paranormal Activity 2 has no artistic purpose for existing.

Look, Tod Williams is a talented filmmaker and there are lots of folks involved in the making of this film that are good at what they do. But ultimately, let’s face it, the impetus behind making a sequel to Paranormal Activity was not based on artistic merit but rather on the notion that it would be advantageous financially to make another cheap horror film that could be released around Halloween. Based on the box office receipts, it has definitely won the box office war, but I was seriously underwhelmed by the product put on the screen.

The idea that some spirit is slamming doors just isn’t that scary to me. It was probably put to use best in Robert Wise’s The Haunting and it has proven to be effective in different films since then, but often with diminishing results.

The first Paranormal Activity wasn’t my favorite recent horror film, but I admired the fact that it dared to be different and put an original spin on the old “haunted house” scare tactics that have become clichés. Strange sounds, slammed doors, Ouija boards…these are all tropes that are tried and true and when employed in the service of something different, they can be fear-inducing. But, when you feel like what you’re watching isn’t an organic expression of the material, but rather a cheap attempt at getting someone to jump in their seat, then it doesn’t become interesting any longer.

The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t scared once during my viewing of Paranormal Activity 2 and that is a big problem when watching a horror film. The best horror movies will keep the viewer up at night, staring at the shadows on the wall and conjuring up memories of what they have just viewed. Not all horror films can live up to that kind of standard, but at the very least a horror film has to prod the viewer into feeling a sense of terror, however slight. During the film, if I don’t jump out of my seat, then I need to at least feel like at any second I might jump. In fact, the really good horror films don’t have any “shock” scares but rather a general sense of foreboding and dread.

Besides the fact that I wasn’t scared during Paranormal Activity 2, I also didn’t particularly believe in the characters. That’s not to say that I didn’t care one way or another (if you put a baby on screen, chances are the viewers are going to worry about its well-being), but that I didn’t think they seemed like real people. This is a risk you take when you make a film that is supposed to be based on “found” or “real” material; it causes the viewer to look a bit more closely at the reality of the situation portrayed. And I didn’t think any of the people in the film behaved like real human beings.

For instance, the daughter in the film is constantly filming things with her camera. This is completely plausible; sometimes young people get hold of a camera and they point it at things they find interesting. However, I don’t think that anybody would find the installation of a home video system at all interesting. There are so many things filmed with the “home camera” that simply wouldn’t be filmed because nobody would think to press “record” during these moments. Most people record things that they find intriguing on some level and I just found that there were too many moments being recorded by the video camera that nobody would think to press “record” on.

But the truth of the matter is that the film’s issues are more systemic than that. The problem is that the well has run dry after one film. There isn’t anything interesting to me any more about seeing invisible creatures doing things. And more and more, when I watch these types of films, I can’t understand why anyone would stay in these situations. I mean, why wouldn’t you move out of this house? I understand there are real-world difficulties to maneuver, like mortgages and such, but if there is an entity in my house that is threatening my family, I think I’ll just put the house on the market and move to a hotel for a few months.

It just doesn’t make any sense that people would continue to live in a house when they have photographic evidence that there is a ghost living there with them. Also, if you were living in this house and you had that footage, wouldn’t you be selling it to every major news outlet in the world. I mean, this would give the world proof that ghosts exist; seriously, in this day and age, nobody in that house would think to try and profit off of this terrible experience?

But the cliché factor is the part that really bugs me. Not only are there rip-offs of everything from Poltergeist to The Blair Witch Project, but it relies on really offensive stereotypes like the ethnic nanny who somehow knows about spirits and ghosts. Or the trite notion that dogs can see these invisible specters and bark at them. Dogs can’t even see colors and I’m supposed to believe that they can see spirits that human beings are unable to?

I mean, I’m not asking the filmmakers to try and reinvent the wheel because sometimes there are themes and occurrences that are just damned effective and you might want to use them in your films. However, you have to bring some kind of new twist to the material or else you’re just rehashing something that has already been done. The first film had the clever idea to set-up cameras in a couple’s bedroom that was being haunted; what does this sequel offer us? It’s a sort of side-quel to the first film, but I don’t think anyone was clamoring to find out what Katie and Micah were doing when they left the house in the first one or wondering what their family members were up to.

Know what else is annoying about this film? One of my biggest pet peeves in the world is when movies that are not documentaries end with crawls stating what happened to the characters. This is a work of fiction; if you cannot show me within the piece what happens to the characters that you have created, then you’re not doing your job correctly. Unless you’re making a joke, like the end of Animal House, there is no excuse for not capably showing the audience the relevant information about the characters and their lives.

I understand this is Halloween week (and I’ll be devoting a whole blog post to what you should be doing film-wise to celebrate), but are audiences this desperate for something “scary” that we’ll watch poor quality footage of bad actors being dragged around by malevolent invisible forces? Have we not evolved past this stage of horror filmmaking? Of course, your other theatrical option is to wait a week and check out the latest Saw disaster that stopped being interesting halfway through the first installment and yet has cranked out another edition every October. I just sincerely hope that Paranormal Activity doesn’t try to compete.

But based on how successful the sequel is, I’m betting I’ll be writing a similar column 12 months from now.

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10 Responses to “Frenzy on the Wall: I’m Not Scared of Slamming Doors”

  1. Josh says:

    “Paranormal Activity 2 has no artistic purpose for existing.”

    I thought you a big fan of stopping hyperbole in film criticism.

    Oh well, I should give you props. Anyone who can expend that much energy on writing about the merits of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is a member of a rare breed.

  2. Noah Forrest says:

    You certainly have a point there, Josh. I didn’t intend for it to come across as hyperbolic, rather I was just trying to point out that the genesis of the film wasn’t an organic, artistic one, but rather something that was created for more cynical, financial purposes. But you’re right, I need to do better at practicing what I preach when it comes to hyperbole.

  3. Keil Shults says:

    I’m glad that the film confirmed what I’ve always suspected: Mexicans are nature’s Ghostbusters.

    On a side note, I saw P2 Thursday night and thought it was amusing enough, and can easily where they might go with a third (and hopefully final) installment. However, I saw a MUCH better horror film over the weekend — one that I somehow had never seen or heard of before. It’s called The Innocents and it’s from 1961. It stars Deborah Kerr, was directed by Jack Clayton (unfamiliar with him up to now), is based on Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (which I’ve never read), and was co-written by Truman Capote (who apparently wrote the vast majority of the script). If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s not exactly frigtening or violent, though it does have its share of chilling moments. But it’s just very well-made, creates and maintains a very unsettling mood, and manages to be rather disturbing and provocative for its time, despite actually looking and feeling older than most films from 1961. Also, it has some amazing deep focus work in it.

  4. Noah Forrest says:

    Keil, The Innocents is a very interesting movie until the last fifteen-twenty minutes where it completely falls apart. I think you’re right that it does do a pretty good job of creating tension for the majority of its running time and goes to some pretty strange places, but the ending ultimately undid a lot of it for me.

  5. EthanG says:

    I really disagree here on many levels but will withhold my comments to two. “Smudging” is widely practiced in Hispanic-countries but is no longer common in the U.S. It’s an offensive stereotype to portray genuine Hispanic culture? I live in a predominately Hipanic neighborhood, and one of my roommates has the misfortune to pass away in his sleep this year. Many of my neighbors came over, many with gifts of sage (to cleanse bad spirits), to offer their condolences. Should I tell my neighbors that their gifts perpetuate archaic Hispanic stereotypes? (I live in Reston, Virginia, 20 minutes from DC).

    Also this column does nothing to advance the horror genre around Halloween. Para 2 is not the best. There are quite a few great horror movies that come out each year that go direct-to-DVD or quick-to-die limited release around October. Last year’s horror anthology, “Trick R Treat,” was one such effort. This year, the fantastic or at least pretty good “Monsters,” “Amer,” “Red White & Blue” and “Heartless” fall into that category. Each October critics lazily point out the shortcomings of studio horror without pointing audiences toward fresh, exciting new horror releases. Trashing audience taste in horror without providing a modern alternative just comes off as snobbery for the genre in general whether warranted or not, and if anything solidifies audience belief that Saw/Paranormal/Final D is acceptable.

    There have been at least 20 GREAT barely seen horror movies in the last 5 years. My guess is that trend will continue…

  6. CleanSteve says:

    Wow, The Innocents is essential horror viewing. I haven’t seen it in a while so Noah’s comments about it falling apart at the end don’t ring a bell with me. I’ll have to watch again soon. What I do remember is it gave me one of my all-time fave scares, taking place during (I think) a sequence where the camera pans 360 degrees over a few faces, and then one unexpected face.

    As for PA2, haven’t seen it yet. But I disagree that the well has run dry on simple scares like banging doors, etc. Well, for a certain segment anyway. Those things have no effect on a ton of people who just aren’t rattled by those sorts of sounds and things in the middle of the night. I dig that, and I dig why so many think it’s dumb and isn’t scary. However, there are also a lot of nervous Nellies like me who do get scared shitless in the middle of the night when something goes bump, be it the family cat in the hall, something hitting the window, sounds from the neighbors…If you can relate to that sort of thing then these movies work on you. Yet, like comedy, it’s so strictly subjective that one side really does puzzle over the other.

    I said in another thread that, yea, a ghost turning a light on and off makes zero sense. But it’s not the logic of it that effects some of us. it’s the basic fact that something or someone is turning that light on and off. It’s an easy, relateable and visual way of getting the desired reaction.

  7. Pookie says:


    I found “Trick R Treat” to be horrendous, but I’m not into the “comic” horror genre.

    “Paranormal Activity” was enjoyable when viewed alone in a remote cabin, which I did. It still worked when watching it again with friends in the city. The second looks much less effective, but I will be sure to rent it, eventually…

  8. Keil Shults says:

    In defense of PA2:

    At least the loud sounds are actually coming from events taking place on screen (falling pots, slamming doors), rather than just loud noises added to the soundtrack. Also, it was an interesting premise to have the audience viewing security cam footage, unaware of what we should be looking for or what might happen. It created some suspense (and apparently impatience in the teenagers behind me).

    But I will agree that I’m tiring of films that supposedly have their characters filming certain situations that they would never stop to film in real life…and often with such great focus, stability and lighting!

  9. Well not many movies part 2 are better then the first one. Like Terminator 2. Most sequels get made to cash in on the success of the first one.

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Frenzy On Column

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon