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‘Paranormal Activity’ lacks scares and creativity

Paranormal Activity lacks scares and creativity

From the beginning, “Paranormal Activity” seems like the next generation of filmmaking.

With a very low budget, the filmmakers compensated the special effects with creativity and atmosphere. Rather than having a glitzy press tour, the filmmakers promoted it by using Facebook and other social networking sites. The film even feels “real” in the sense that it looks like a video blog you could find on YouTube.

But the film’s novel premise doesn’t seem so novel on second glance. “The Blair Witch Project” and recently “Cloverfield” framed their stories with “real life” footage – both of those films also had effective marketing campaigns by showing cryptic trailers that don’t give too much away and built buzz by word-of-mouth. What “Paranormal Activity” doesn’t have that these films did is a good story to back it up.

The story centers around a young couple haunted by a demon in their suburban home. The actors are believable as a couple in the subtle ways they communicate with each other, but the scenes with the paranormal investigator and a sequence involving a Ouija board seem campy.

This was a movie that was tailor-made for the Facebook generation. Much of the film feels like the equivalent of a Twitter post.

The film opts for a claustrophobic atmosphere over scares, owing another debt to “Blair Witch” and older films like the original “The Haunting.” Even so, the scenes that break from the action to document the couple’s unraveling relationship makes a brisk running time of 90 minutes seem like forever.

The tension the filmmakers build with these scenes forced the characters toward an ending that felt like a retread of conventional horror films, which denied the audience the creative experience they were promised.

It becomes the same kind of warmed over “gotcha” scares that you find in traditional horror movies (doors that suddenly close, bedsheet covers that unfurl by themselves) stretched out until the novelty wears thin.

The only thing truly innovative about this film is the marketing campaign. The movie’s Web site gives people the chance to demand their local theater to show the film. The campaign has worked so far with the film garnering a $19.6 million dollar wide opening at the box office.

Maybe next time with a bigger budget and better script, they can turn the world of horror films inside out.

“Paranormal Activity” is rated R and is in selected theaters now.

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