Heteronormal Activity

Tonight, on "Crap That Wasn't Actually in the Movie"...

So the Paranormal Activity franchise has suckered us into a third installment. This series has always offered an excess of low-hanging fruit by way of its presuppositions, scare style and contrivances, but after three films, I think we can effectively track its gender politics as well.

See if this scans for you.

  1. Men are technophiliac piles of pent-up machismo. In all three films, the male leads are electronics junkies whose spendthrift camera purchases afford us the “found footage” necessary to construct these cheap-ass narratives about devil-dealing (and devil-suffering) middle-class layabouts. Not only is masculinity expressed pretty much exclusively through the men’s monopolization of the tech in these movies (even when they go gallivanting off to challenge the intruding demon to a fistfight or whatever, they do so with camera at the ready), the cameras are also the grounds for the escalating pissing contests the men hold with all these menacing demonic spirits (who are also apparently pretty lazy, but that’s a whole other criticism).
  2. Women are hysterical technophobes who believe they can banish the bad ju-ju through willful ignorance.Let me reiterate: three films. In three films, we have seen women and girls depicted as skeptics, victims and hosts for the damned. The third one ups the creep factor considerably with [SPOILER] the whole child bride thing [/SPOILER]. But it still seems questionable that we should go three films without a woman as the primary agent. What, women aren’t interested in cameras or mysteries enough?

    But okay, I don’t need a heroine who makes ridiculous camera purchases to enjoy my Paranormal Activity films, but it’d be nice if the wives and girlfriends in these movies weren’t consistently shrill opponents to the central conceit of the series–we need to capture the paranormal stuff on TAPE!–and furthermore conflated the two processes (the haunting and the taping), believing if you just stopped the cameras everything would just go away. If that was ever the case (and I won’t deny that Micah especially was a baiting son-of-a-submarine who totally had it coming) it’s explicitly not the case by the second and especially this third film.

    That or this family is actually being haunted by foolhardy schmucks inordinately obsessed with hauling massive cameras on their shoulders, and the demons are just some kind of antibody response.

  3. Women are vessels for evil. This latest film does a lot to drive home that whole pre-pregnancy mentality that these women (and girls) are just waiting wombs for evil, even in their preadolescence.
  4. “Witch” is another word for “Satanist,” and “Satanist” means dark ritual sacrifices and demonic possessions, not, gee, an actual religion. Glad to see the screenwriter didn’t even do the perfunctory two seconds of googling required of the genre. It’s like someone dug up their old script from the 1990s and scribbled Paranormal Activity 3 on the cover page.

I do love found footage horror movies, possibly moreso than any other horror subgenre. (I don’t do gore porn. I like OH GOD WHAT WAS THAT IN THE CORNER SDKGJDSLK:SASF, not dyed corn syrup and pig intestines. Marble Hornets is good for this, when it isn’t too busy sucking.) But by the third film these movies are just painting in details on an already pretty well fleshed out tapestry. I hated how the second one just seemed clueless about how surveillance horror was supposed to work, but it at least did right by the premise of the film by upping the technological ante (even if the execution was anti-immersive as hell).

That’s what these films need to be. I don’t give a crap about this particular family and a deal with the devil some ancestor made. I want scary stuff caught on camera. My advice to the producers would be to lose the mythos and go back to coming up with cunning ways to seem plausible.

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  • literarydormouse  On 11.02.11 at 6:42 pm

    This brought me in by ‘crap that wasn’t in the movie’, very true. I saw this tonight at the cinema, and was rather bored, sat through the other two and found this to be equally predictable, despite nothing from the original trailer actually being in the film. oh well, let’s wait for #4.

  • Richard Goodness  On 11.03.11 at 12:07 am

    I haven’t seen any of the Paranormal Activity movies–have oddly had no desire to–but the phrase “when it isn’t too busy sucking” applied to Marble Hornets raised my hackles. Such fanboyism isn’t generally like me and I apologize! But out of curiosity, when do you consider MH to be sucking?

    • Kris Ligman  On 11.03.11 at 12:19 am

      Well, there are really three main things that detract from my enjoyment of MH on occasion:

      1. Awful blood effects. Fortunately we haven’t seen this one in a while.
      2. Crappy pacing. Now, some of it’s not under their control, I’ve heard about the delay with props and so on, and I’m not even on about the timing between episodes. I mean that a lot of episodes reiterate facts we’ve already sorted out and don’t do a lot to either advance the plot or expand the mythos. Full episode or two where it’s a bunch of tension with no payoff? LOVE IT! Another episode of coughing and popping pills? Okay, we get it. And the five million hours with Jessica… :(
      3. The Operator camera effects are getting stale. I honestly think he’s being overused and that the shots are getting too repetitive and predictable. Meanwhile everything seems about as unclear as the end of the first season. Gratuitous scares that don’t advance our understanding in any way bug me.

      There’s also the writing and acting, which feels like it’s gone down even further in a lot of the recent videos, but I don’t care as much about that. It’s a zero budget college student effort, and when it’s good, it’s very very good. When it’s bad, it’s bad enough to make me headdesk. Still better than all the PA films combined, granted.

      • Richard Goodness  On 11.03.11 at 7:28 pm

        I know that PA got some acclaim but I had no real interest in it for whatever reason. But yeah your points about MH are well-taken–I’d actually forgotten about the blood effects especially in Episode 14. ::dusts off his copy of Understanding Comics:: I ended up viewing the blood especially in that episode almost iconically–as in it’s a representation of blood rather than a literal depiction of blood. That helped. But then again, in a comic or a videogame or something which is *drawn*, it’s more natural to view things as Iconic–it’s harder in a movie. But anyway.

        I do like the “boo it’s the operator” stuff, it does get to me, and one thing I appreciate about MH is the fact that it’s leading TO something. I also watch Tribe Twelve and Dark Harvest–TT has PHENOMENAL visuals and some scenes that I’m genuinely unsure how they filmed (did you see the one with the Everyman Hybrid crossover?), and Dark Harvest has some fairly innovative moments (the double oner for episode 14, Log 19 which has some very well-shot action sequences), but they really seem like they’re just loosely-connected scares in some way. Both have mystery arcs and a mythos, but I find the way MH reveals its storyline to be more cryptic and compelling.

        I wonder how neatly they’re going to end up wrapping it. That the pacing is off–as awesome as the past few episodes have been hasn’t the second season felt like it’s supposed to be ending any minute now?–almost implies that they haven’t done a full outline of what happens when, and there’s stuff–the bullet casing, the contents of Jay’s safe (which he could ahve just had unlocked by talking to the people at the front desk, I mean duh)–that I almost think they’ve forgotten about. I’m still convinced it’s aliens, though.

  • LadyG  On 11.05.11 at 7:14 pm

    The other problem I have with PA continuing to expand on the same myth is that it just makes everyone involved seem dumber and dumber. Wait, this has been going on for how long, and the menfolk still keep playing ‘poke the demon?’ Really? REALLY?

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