Did I mention that I wasn't crazy about that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie?( I'm glad it stuck it to the SAW franchise though.) To tell ya' the truth I guess there is a lot of popular stuff that I just don't get. I hate cars, have never owned a cell phone and I'm truly appalled by pizza delivery places offering any kind of dessert.
Some people have told me that if I saw PARANORMAL with a non-sucky crowd before the hype I'd feel differently, maybe they are right but I am unconvinced. One particular piece of PARANORMAL propaganda that ended up galling me is the claim that it is superior to the film on whose shoulders it stands on, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Now I know not everybody digs B.W.P., I can name several people off hand whose opinion I value more than my own who find it intolerable, yet for me it really does do the trick.
In fact, I watched it again the other night (obviously well aware that it is not a true story at this point) and I still gotta say it gives me some real creeps. It certainly works for me better than PARANORMAL ACTIVITY did. I guess BLAIR just hits me where I live and rakes up my own personal bugaboos where P.A. does not. Anyway, I thought I'd try to share with you just what about it I think makes it a scarier and more effective movie (at least for me)...
For some people PARANORMAL is particularly frightening because it takes place at home in a bedroom where you are supposed to be able to feel safe. I get that, but ultimately looking at a bed just makes me feel like taking a cat nap. I defy any demon to try to wake me when I'm truly exhausted and welcome them to join me in bed if they are so inclined. On the other hand, woods, especially barren woods with trees that look like skeleton hands reaching out of the ground, scare the crap out of me. From Little Red Riding Hood to THE EVIL DEAD, woods are a common backdrop for tales of terror because they hit on something primal within us all. Think of it this way, the characters in B.W.P. were trying to GET OUT of the woods so that they could go home and GO TO bed, that's gotta tell ya' something.
Whether it be the scary faced locals or unseen witches, old ladies are built to unnerve. I know the GOLDEN GIRLS seem nice but just imagine them suddenly attacking you...it's enough to make you faint on the spot. Everyone from Hansel and Gretel to that poor loan officer (ALISON LOHMAN) in DRAG ME TO HELL understands this. I'm sorry PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, but demons tend to have cool horns, awesome pointy tales, and sexy goatees. On the other hand old ladies smell like mothballs and chew Mary Jane Candy... you're trumped again!
PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT
I know HEATHER DONAHUE (who by the way, ruled in the miniseries TAKEN) can be kind of grating and sometimes comes off like a disgruntled Urban Outfitters manager, but she admits her mistakes, never courts trouble and is an aspiring filmmaker rather than an aspiring bead stringer. JOSHUA LEONARD and MICHAEL C.WILLIAMS are guys you wouldn't mind sharing a beer with; the only thing I would share with MICAH SLOAT is a live hand grenade.
Both films saved a lot of paper by forcing their cast to ad lib without scripted dialogue, but you can't accuse the makers of B.W.P. of slacking creatively. Even if one felt slighted by the content of the film itself you have got to hand it to whoever came up with the spooky legend of the BLAIR WITCH; it's far too elaborate to go into detail here, but if anyone knows a more effective campfire story I'd love to hear it.
GETTING LOST SUCKS
As a person with literally zero sense of direction who as an adult has been summoned by intercom to meet up with my lost companions at the entrance of a Target department store, I feel for the trio walking in circles in BLAIR WITCH. Acting wise their frustration and exhaustion reads as authentic to me whereas our PARANORMAL pals just come off as mostly petulant and perturbed. The BLAIR kids make some dumb moves but their efforts are evident, the P.A. couple overlooks obvious solutions simply because they are conveniently told that any attempts to escape would be fruitless.
Some complain that nothing ever happens in B.W.P. but I beg to differ, there are several scenes that chill me to the bone even during a repeat viewing. The use of sound and darkness is pretty intense if you ask me and I am always aware of myself straining to hear and see more. Giggling children? Was that a cackle? Is that Josh crying out in pain? Is somebody just fucking with them? How about that damn dilapidated house at the end? That place just reeks of evil. Maybe those hand prints are a little over the top but I would not spend a second in that dwelling especially at night no matter how lost I was. At this point the film has earned its contagious hysteria as far as I'm concerned. Maybe STEVEN SPIELBERG might have preferred a CGI witchie-poo to fly toward the camera at the end, but I think the sight of Mike standing in the corner staring at the wall is simple unshakable perfection.
THE REALITY IS
We all have our personal fears based on our nature and experiences. Would I think old ladies were so scary if that crone hadn't harangued me at summer camp? Would I think being lost was frightening if I had not experienced the same feelings myself? Is Micah's macho arrogance and mundane living space just too alien for me to relate too? Ultimately I can't blame my disappointment in P.A. on the hype because B.W.P. had just as much or more and I loved every minute of it. Both films deserve laurels for relying on their audience's imagination for scares but for me BLAIR WITCH illustrates the idea that sometimes less is more and P.A. reminds me that sometimes it really is just less...