Thursday, October 29, 2009

Saw VI and Paranormal Activity

Yet again, I’m happy to announce a pair of films I’ve had the pleasure to view within a few days of each other. Rather than choosing one or the other, I decided that I’ll just write a piece about both.

The two films I had seen this week were Saw VI and Paranormal Activity. Instead of going out to see the movies right when they came out, I waited a few days to do so. The main reason was because I went to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios over the weekend and I was pretty exhausted after getting back from the trip. I needed a day, Sunday, to recuperate and then went to the movie theater on Monday to see Saw VI. As I walked in, however, I noticed that they had a marquee for Paranormal Activity. I was surprised because I knew the film was in limited release throughout the country and only bigger cities had the movie available. Being that I live in Cowtown USA, I didn’t think it would’ve been released here. But there was the title, standing out in glorious lettering on the display above the entryway, so I silently debated what I should see that day. After a few seconds, I went with Saw VI and promised myself I’d come back for Paranormal Activity later that week.

So, in the order I’d watched the films, I’ll review them. Without further ado, here they are.

As I sat and waited for Saw VI to begin, I couldn’t help but think of the last film and began to think that this film may turn out the same way. Hopefully whoever’s reading this is all caught up with the prior films and know what I’m talking about as I go through this. See, the film deals with characters of the last few films, flashing back and sometimes just bringing back people from the prior movie or the one before last.

I know...sounds confusing, right?

Anyway, this sequel takes place right after the last, where Agent Strahm was duped by Detective Hoffman and killed. See, we find out in the last two movies that Hoffman is basically taking Jigsaw’s place and creating some of the “games” that are causing people to be killed. Strahm was right on his tail and nearly had him, but like I’d said, he died.

Anyway, this film brings in an insurance company that turned down a claim for John Kramer (Jigsaw) to help him with his cancer as we see in flashbacks. The lead man of the company, William, is the one chosen to play the new game and goes through quite a bit with choosing some people, individuals associated to him through the insurance company, to live or die. Meanwhile, Hoffman is making sure the FBI is not closing in on him while he’s overseeing the game.

Jill, John’s wife, is brought into the story again and we get to find out what was in the box that was left to her in the previous film. I’d go further into that, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

I’ve got to say that this entry was a little better and less confusing than the last film, but not as good as the first three. I don’t know where the filmmakers are going with this story as a whole, but it seems as if they’re going to great lengths to some climactic conclusion. Really, I don’t care because, overall, the franchise is very entertaining and thrilling, although constantly criticized for this or that. But the traps are what really sell the films because they’re so sadistic yet ingenious in every entry.

As long as they keep their promise by releasing a sequel every year near Halloween, I’ll be there in the seat with my bag of popcorn and Milk Duds.

So, two days later, I swing back to the movie house for the second of my double feature review, Paranormal Activity.

Paranormal Activity was a little weird when it began. See, the normalcy of movie-going is sitting down after gathering your movie paraphernalia, such as popcorn and drinks, and watching the previews before the movie starts. The previews went on as always and suddenly there is this text on the screen about the two characters in the film, Katie and Micah, with some thanks to the San Diego Police Department or something to that effect. There was no “Paramount Pictures Presents,” nor were there the title words, "Paranormal Activity," on the screen to announce that this was the main attraction beginning, just the text that I’d mentioned and that was it.

As many know, the film was shot documentary style, à la Blair Witch Project, as if it were a real life video that this couple decided to film. To some (like myself), this may seem like a tired trend already, but for others, I guess it worked. However tired or old it may have seemed to me, it didn’t take anything away from the film.

With only about four characters in the movie, it was easy to follow and get some good character study pretty quickly. Right away, we find out that Katie and Micah are concerned about some disturbances that have been going on in their house. Between the two, we get the sense that Katie is a little scared about all this and takes the situation very seriously, not wanting Micah to film at times and feeling they need assistance from outside experts. Micah, on the other hand, kind of smirks a bit and laughs things off as he constantly films everything he can, sometimes trying to antagonize whatever demon or spirit is in the house.

As classic horror movies go, Paranormal Activity uses the tried and true formula of giving the audience only little scares at first, slowly building up more and more until the film comes to a big climax. Because what Micah documents at first may be something that could be easily explained as house creaking or kids from next door pulling pranks. But as the sounds and hijinks become greater, the scarier and spookier the situation becomes. A nice touch the filmmakers decided on was showing some of the goings-on in sped up footage and when you see these images, it really adds in helping the audience to get creeped out and making the circumstances more intense.

While Paranormal Activity goes on to show us a lot more than what Blair Witch gave us, it’s still the things we don’t see on screen that scare us the most.

So, what’s my final “bit” on Saw VI and Paranormal Activity?

Saw VI definitely cleared up some questions you may have had from the previous film, but you’d probably do well to watch all prior five films before going in to see this one. It really didn’t feature too many scares, but let’s face it, it’s the devious and brutal traps that we watch these films for, right? I think it might’ve been a mistake to kill Jigsaw off earlier (in part 3, was it?), because how can they continue to keep him devising traps from beyond the grave? As a big fan of the Saw franchise, I may be a little biased, but I really love every entry they’ve released to date.

Paranormal Activity, on the other hand, was a scary film, especially if you put yourself in the characters’ places. Almost everybody has been in that spot where they hear bumps in the night or unexplained movement of items, either by witnessing it or seeing the aftermath of it later. Keeping the cast down to a minimum was brilliant and the story, although not much to it, was good. The acting was believable and the two main players were very likable. Comparing it to Blair Witch Project is fair and I’d say that Paranormal Activity was a bit better and scarier.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trick 'r Treat

The problem with horror movies these days is that it lacks the mystery and unanswered questions that the movies of yesteryear had. Like, nobody knew why Jason Voorhees kept on coming back no matter how many times you’d stab him or whack him and there was never an answer as to why Michael Myers could never be killed. Nowadays, the moviemakers insist in having a reasoning or an explanation as to why things are happening and when that is placed in the movie, it loses something. It actually loses the fear it provokes when the happenings are simply explained away in some back story. Alfred Hitchcock said it best when he filmed the classic movie, The Birds, citing that leaving the movie open-ended like he did made it more frightening, but if he included an explanation to the birds’ attacks on people, it would fall into the realm of science fiction.

So, with that said, Trick ‘r Treat—directed by Michael Dougherty and produced by Bryan Singer—is definitely a gem of a film that features the supernatural and doesn’t explain it away with some rationale.

Another great thing about this film is that it’s an anthology, meaning that it’s not just one big story, but several stories rolled into one movie. Like Creepshow or Tales From the Crypt, there’s around four or five different tales woven into the film. And unlike those previously mentioned films, the stories in Trick ‘r Treat are interlaced nicely and kind of take a Quentin Tarantino approach to it as the stories are not exactly in chronological order.

This type of horror film has been sadly lacking in Hollywood and unfortunately
Trick ‘r Treat really didn’t get its fair share in theaters. In fact, the movie was made and finished in early 2008, only getting limited release during a special horror movie fest and a short run within the Los Angeles area. Even though many reviewers praised the film, Warner Bros. saw fit not to release it nationwide, but instead chose to shelf it for nearly a year. I was one of the many who didn’t get to see this film in the theaters and saw it on DVD last night.

The one thing that kept flashing through my mind as I watched Trick ‘r Treat was how much better it was than Creepshow III. Then again...a lot of movies were better than Creepshow III. Not only did I think that, but I just couldn’t believe that this film wasn’t distributed to theaters to make WB a lot of money, because this film is what Halloween really is all about. So many horror films of late just revolve around what teenagers are boringly doing and includes way too much emphasis on their ways of life. Most of the time, if I can sit through one of these teeny-bopper movies, these films seem like a teenage reality series like The Hills or some boring crap like that.

Anyway, back to Trick ‘r Treat and how the film went.

It starts off really nice, with the feel of autumn, capturing a small town atmosphere during Halloween. A couple returns from the community’s Halloween festivities and we get the first warning about Halloween: Don’t put out the jack o’lantern’s light until Halloween is over. Of course, the woman does—ignoring her husband’s half-hearted warning—and bad things happen. This, my friends, is the introduction of what’s in store for you throughout this film.

We have Principal Wilkins (played by Spider-Man 2’s
Dylan Baker) in the first story, showing his terrible secret that he can’t deny; a group of teenage girls head out to a party deep in the woods, with one of them deciding to walk from town all the way to party in the dark; a group of four children go through great lengths to perform a cruel prank on the girl down the street who’s a little different; and finally, the cranky old man (played by Brian Cox), who doesn’t enjoy Halloween and refuses to give out candy to the trick ‘r treaters, is taught a frightening lesson.

Man! This film is so reminiscent of the horror films of the 80s and it feels almost nostalgic to watch it. Bryan Singer and Michael Dougherty really did something right with this film and it’s sad that the film was shelved as payment for all their hard work.

Trick ‘r Treat is really a satisfying experience and is worth more than just renting for one night of viewing…it’s worth owning to watch again and again. Because, as soon as I finished watching this movie, I went online and purchased the Blu-Ray.

My final “bit” on Trick ‘r Treat? Although the film is not jump-out-of-your-seat scary, it’s still a fun and amusing ride. It’s not drenched in gore and violence, but instead, thrills you and leaves you with the right feel of Halloween. In a weird way, it brings you back to your childhood to remember how it was to go out and collect candy from your neighbors, all the while wondering what was out there in the dark. Halloween is only one day in the year, but I always start celebrating it at the beginning of October. Trick ’r Treat gives me yet another tool in making the scary season last. Watch this one! You won’t regret it!