Paranormal Activity…

Paranormal Activity after the break…

Paranormal Activity…

Movies like “Paranormal Activity” are a real contradiction for me.

On the one hand, I live in a glass house – I really like the 1938 radio drama “War of the Worlds” which was, in a narrow sense, a faux radio news broadcast of Martians (yes, alien beings from the planet Mars right here from our own solar system) invading the planet Earth.

On the other hand, simply because I like some faux reality drama doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to like all of them. It’s sort of like using the logic that, “Well, since I like the TV series ‘Survivor,’ which is a competitive reality TV series, then I must also like every other competitive reality TV series such as ‘Big Brother.'” By the way, I’m not a huge fan of competitive reality television – It was just an example.

“Paranormal Activity” is the latest “faux” drama to hit the movie theaters. It’s not actually a “new” movie – It actually debuted in 2007 but recently went popular (and “wide,” in cinematic lexicon whenever a movie opens to a lot of screens) when Steven Spielburg (yes, that Steven) became it’s most vocal cheerleader.

To be perfectly clear – The movie “Paranormal Activity” is fake. It’s not real. Those are actors. There was a script. It’s made to look real but it isn’t. Case closed.

I just don’t get it. I don’t understand the appeal that this movie has over the teenagers & the young adults.

Part of the problem, I think, is that anyone over the age of 25 already went through this phase with a little movie called “The Blair Witch Project.” These two films share quite a few similarities, not the least of which is a climax that leaves much to the imagination (Why is the cameraman suddenly standing in a corner? How does a young woman literally hurl a grown man across the room & into a camera?).

I think, though, that there is a key difference between movies like “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity” & “War of the Worlds.”

All great works of art carry more then their face value meaning. There’s always a subtext to the art that appeals more then just is what is on the surface.

“War of the Worlds,” on it’s surface, was just about aliens invading the world. However, taken in the context of it’s time, it was more about the impending Third Reich in Germany & it’s growing intimidation on the rest of the world. Yes, I know that “War of the Worlds” was originally a book (Not True – It was actually a serial story that was turned into a book) written long before Nazi Germany was ever formed but the radio adaptation altered the story to fit that subtext into it. The original story was written with an English audience in mind because, at the time, England was still a military superpower & who could possibly defeat the United Kingdom except for otherworldly invaders?

I’m not sure what the subtext for movies like “Paranormal Activity” & “The Blair Witch Project” is. Is it that the youthful generation is frightened by being disconnected from society? Is the youth of this present generation too bored with conventional science & must create myths out of whole cloth to entertain themselves?

Both movies carry some similar themes that are just too obvious to ignore. In “Blair Witch,” the young adults are physically disconnected from society – They are, literally, lost in the woods & are at the mercy of a so-called “Blair Witch.” In “Paranormal Activity,” the young couple is socially disconnected from society due to the stigma of a supposed demonic possession in their house.

I find it slightly amusing that both films use the filming style of an amateur camcorder in a “You are there” format. Like what Jim Henson discovered decades earlier with his puppets, you could use the limitations of what a camera sees to the performer’s advantage. For puppets, the puppeteer could be just off-camera without the use of props to hide behind. For these movies, the film makers can set the action just off camera to force an audience inundated with Blackberries, instant messaging, text messaging, Wikipedia & a whole host of “I must know now” tools to use their imagination in wondering what that howl was or why a light was suddenly turned on.

For the record, the use of an amateur camcorder does not necessitate a bad film by itself; The movie “Cloverfield” uses the same type of filming style to great advantage with much of the same conventions – Hiding the ‘Godzilla’-like creature from view & forcing us to run like so many Asian city dwellers from an unstoppable menace while depriving the viewer of information typically available in a convetional “Man in Monster Suit” movie.

I find it more then a bit humbling that, nearly two decades later, the television show “Star Trek: The Next Generation” predicted how today’s society would react. An enemy of the United Federation of Planets, the Borg, were similarly “connected” society. Instead of cybernetic implants to make us look machine-like, we carry iPhones, Blackberries, Bluetooth… We are just as connected as those cliched science-fiction enemies but without the cliched props. Just like the Borg, our greatest weakness &, therefore, or greatest fear is when we are disconnected from the group – To be deprived of the tons of worthless information we feel we are privileged in consuming.

The apocalypse for these youths is the obliteration of Twitter & Facebook, the inability to log into MySpace or simply finding a “404 Not Found” at their favorite porn (or is it “pr0n”) site.

So, that is what horror means to them nowadays – Not knowing what is just off-camera, not being able to simply find more information on Wikipedia or IMDB, a movie that simply ends with no rhyme or reason with desperate viewers poking through a movie to find any scrap of explanation as though searching for yet another clue in a demented version of “the Da Vinci Code.”

So, maybe in the end, while I at least understand what appeals to the youths in these movies, I still don’t “get it.” I don’t get the thrill or receive the chills for I did not grow up in an era where knowing who the fifth prime minister of Canada was is only a few clicks away from knowing when the latest video game will be released. I grew up in the era when not knowing was normal & it was normal to seek out the truth through hypothesis & experiment.

I don’t hate “Paranormal Activity” for being popular… I just can’t figure out why it is popular. Maybe some things are best left without an explanation or, in this case… Off-camera.

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