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Paranormal Activity: Where Did It Go Wrong?

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Paramount Pictures

The Paranormal Activity franchise has seen six movies released since the original in 2007. But as with so many successful horrors the sequels spiral downward quickly. But where did it all go wrong for Paranormal Activity?

Let me set the scene. It was a dark autumn evening in 2010. I’m sat with one my friends at his place when he suggests we watch a DVD that he’s recently bought. Why not, I thought? He shows me the cover. Paranormal Activity. Well, I do love a good horror film, so let’s give it a go.

We spent the next ninety minutes or so glued to the screen. I don’t think either of us said much through the entire movie. Once it was finished, he nonchalantly says to me, ‘fancy staying over?’ Now, I had recently started seeing a girl (now my wife) who I wanted to go and see on the way home. ‘Sorry mate, I said I would pop in and see my girlfriend on the way home’. He looked gutted but didn’t say it. I got into my car and immediately phoned my girlfriend and asked to stay at her place for the night. I then spent the entire car journey looking over my shoulder. This was all down to watching that film.

Genuinely terrifying

The saying goes that less is more, and that is exactly what makes the first Paranormal Activity film so terrifying. It relies on suspense and imagination alone, and your imagination is scarier than amounts of gory jump scares. If you live on Mars and have never watched Paranormal Activity, then don’t watch it alone.

The story revolves around two characters, Katy and Micah, and the increasing amounts of ‘activity’ that happens in their house at night. They decide to set up a camcorder to film them sleeping. What follows is ever-increasing amounts of activity as every night passes. The thing that surges your heart rate is that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. The night scenes where you watch the clock tick away have you on the edge-of-your-seat. You never know when the next scare will happen, so you teeter on the sofa, waiting for something to happen. I’ve genuinely never been more on-edge all the way through a movie like I was watching this.

Director Oren Peli made the film on just a few thousand dollars and used two unknown actors, who mainly improvised the dialogue. When you think about how huge the franchise has become, that’s quite incredible. That’s credit to just how good this film is. Even now, it’s genuinely unsettling to watch.

What happened next?

What always happens when Hollywood get a successful film. They make a sequel. Paranormal Activity 2 came out a year later. It’s set a few weeks before the events of the original film and based around the two sisters and baby Hunter. Now, this is still a good film. It’s still filmed on camcorders or house security cameras, and the effect is still dramatic. There are some heart-stopping scenes too; especially when Kirsti gets dragged out of the baby’s room and down the stairs. The kitchen scene where all the utensils fall from the ceiling actually made me jump as well. Paramount did a good job with this film, although it can’t match the sheer terror of the original.

Then came Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 3 is where things start to go a bit wrong for the franchise. By this time, we kind of know the story (or at least be able to work it out). This instalment is the prequal to the franchise and shows Kristi and Katie as young girls experiencing the start of the activity. Don’t get me wrong, horror films are all the more terrifying when kids are involved. Look at The Exorcist; The Omen; The Shining and Poltergeist to name just a few.

There are some great moments in this film. Particularly scary is the scene where one of the girls is dragged across the bedroom floor into a cupboard. She’s only be released once the other sister agrees to the demon’s instruction. The scene where the girls are in the bathroom playing Bloody Mary is also unsettling. Especially when they open the door to see their furniture still being thrown around. There are also some cool jump scares through the movie, but it’s starting to feel a bit repetitive now.

The long pieces of security footage where you’re waiting for something to happen is feeling a bit tiresome now. It’s lost some of the edge that made the original film so terrifying. It’s beginning to become overkill. This was one of the highest-grossing films of the franchise though, so in hindsight, Paramount should have stopped there. But nope, they carried on.

It gets worse

Now we really start to descend down the rabbit hole of hogwash with Paranormal Activity 4, things going wrong seems polite.

Supposedly set directly after the events of movie number 2, it basically rehashes the first two movies. There is no real point to the story (as we already know the demon has come from a witch’s covenant), so it meanders along with very little meaning. Yes, there are a handful of well-done moments that’ll make you jump, but it’s not enough to make up for the lacklustre story. By the time you get to the end of the movie, you’re left asking yourself why you sat through it. It leaves more open questions than it answers and leaves you unsatisfied. But wait, it gets worse.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was next to be released

This was technically a spin-off movie, and it showed. Again, there was no real point to this film. Apart from being an attempted cash-in. The film is set in California and is based around various Latino characters, as it was initially targeted for the Latino market. That’s the real positive I could pull from the film. A change of scenery and characters did put a new spin on the story. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t enough to save what is in essence, an average horror movie. There are a couple of cool scares throughout, but it just feels generic.

Director Christopher Landon is just going through the motions. The final scene is a prime example. One of the characters is being chased by a possessed man and ends up going through a random door. Where does it go? Oh look, it ends up in Katie and Micha’s house from the first film. Katie sees him, screams, Micha comes down and Katie stabs him before the character is himself killed. It’s as if it was thrown in to somehow tie in better with the franchise, but it feels clunky and pointless. Avoid this film.

And, finally

The final film in the franchise, Paranormal Activity 5: The Ghost Dimension, was released in 2015.

Now, I’m going to give this one a little bit of credit. But only because it tied up a few of the franchises lingering questions about who ‘Tobi’ the demon was and the history of the witch’s coven. The rest of the film is a bit of a yawn-fest. The trouble is, we’ve seen it all before. Many times. They didn’t do anything to push the franchise forward or do anything original.

The family in this story discover the history of the house they live in and find clues about the past of young Katie and Kristi. Inevitably, hauntings start happening and things go a bit crazy. The girl also disappears into a ‘portal’ in her bedroom wall that takes her to another dimension (really?). The final ten minutes of the movie are really the worst.

The family try and do an exorcism in the house and end of trapping the demon in a blanket covered in holy water. Yep. He escapes (obviously) and ends up fulfilling his goal of being a real being. Correct me if I’m wrong, but surely life is better being an actual demon? You get to disappear when you want; scare the hell out of people and genuinely be a nuisance without taking any responsibility. Sounds a win-win. Anyway, some ropey CGI just cements the fact that this movie is dire and should definitely be avoided. I also watched this film in the cinema and at the end some guy stood up and said loudly, ‘well, that was a load of s••t’. Says it all, really.

The future?

Just as you think that they’ve squeezed about every inch of flesh from the franchise, it seems that another Paranormal Activity film is in the works, so more opportunity to get things wrong.

I have no idea where they can take it and if I was a betting man, I would say it’s probably going to be terrible. I try to be an optimist though, so I’ll watch when it comes out next year, but I’ll be setting my bar very low. It’s a shame that they wrung the franchise of any originality.

It should have been kept at two films. Well, possibly three at a push. But the others should have never been made as it was a pure cash-in. They also take the shine off the original, which is, in my opinion, one of the scariest films ever made.


Thanks for reading this article on where did it all go wrong for the Paranormal Activity series. Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.


More of our movie articles HERE.

Read IMDB information on Paranormal Activity (1997) HERE.

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Movie News

No Time To Die – Review

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Metro Goldwyn Mayer

No Time To Die is the 25th instalment in the official James Bond series. It’s the VERY long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s Spectre. The 6-year gap between the two films is only matched by the same gap between Timothy Dalton’s last outing in 1989’s Licence To Kill and Pierce Brosnan’s debut in 1995’s Goldeneye. Here’s our review of No Time To Die.

SPOILERS: If you’re reading this then you’ve probably seen the film, but if not there are spoilers ahead.

Of course, there are mitigating factors in that enormous gap. Namely COVID. Which made No Time To Die the first major film to delay its release due to the pandemic. Although, this film has had a difficult gestation irrespective of the global situation in the last 18 months. As soon as Spectre was released the speculation over Daniel Craig’s future in the role began. With him initially suggesting he would rather slash his own wrists than play the iconic spy again. He did a mea culpa on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show in August 2017, where he confirmed he would appear as Bond for a fifth and final time. The original director and writer, Danny Boyle and John Hodge, left the project a year later over creative differences. Cory Joji Fukunaga took over as director. While Bond script veterans Robert Wade and Neil Purvis took charge of the screenplay – with a sprinkling of magic from Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Delays

Originally slated for release in April 2020, at long last, we finally get to see Daniel Craig’s denouement as 007. His portrayal of Bond has been very much in keeping with the character of Ian Fleming’s original novels. His performances have certainly followed the dramatic lineage of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton. Rather than the lighter portrayals by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. Yet his Bond has displayed a vulnerability only really demonstrated with any plausibility by George Lazenby in his solitary outing as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

The deference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is presented in stark relief throughout this 2h43min epic. Making this the longest Bond film in the series. As this was the first film I’ve seen at the cinema since before the pandemic, I was already excited before I even sat down. As a massive James Bond fan as well, I was close to apoplexy! I felt a tangible shiver go down my spine as the iconic gun barrel sequence appeared before we see James cruising around Italy in the classic DB5 with Madeleine Swann at his side. This anticipation was clearly felt by other cinema-goers. They have made No Time To Die break the UK box office record for the biggest opening weekend. It took almost £26m, breaking the record previously held by Skyfall.

I’m not going to spoil the plot for those who’ve not seen it. I had made a conscious decision to avoid spoilers before I went.

A step up?

This film is another shot in the arm for those who see Craig as the definitive Bond. This was aided by a refocusing of the Bond canon after the main tropes of the series were stretched to breaking point by the invisible cars and melting ice palaces of Die Another Day. And then stretched still further by Madonna’s cameo as a fencing instructor. Daniel Craig was given leeway to truly regenerate James Bond for the 21st Century. The stripped-back nature of Casino Royale, without most of the supporting characters that have been a staple of the series like Q and Moneypenny. Gave him licence (pardon the pun) to explore the deepest and darkest recesses of the Bond psyche. Some well-drawn female leads and villains really allowed Craig’s Bond to spar with them with depth and genuine emotion.

That exploration continues and grows in No Time To Die. We get to see an ageing, truly world-weary Bond, whose past he appears unable to escape. This leaves him in a state of almost constant angst. Paradoxically though, we also see him truly relaxed at times. In a way I can’t recall ever seeing James Bond in any of his previous cinematic outings.

Screen time

The issue with that exploration is that a number of characters then have their screen time cut. Moneypenny is reduced to little more than a cameo. And Remi Malek’s Safin is almost secondary as he features in the opening moments as his story is told, but then disappears for what seemed like an eternity. He of course reappears but he almost seems a mild irritation within the plot and merely a conduit to allow us to see the climax of Daniel Craig’s Bond era. It’s a disappointing underuse of a terrific actor. One with a captivating screen presence, who could have been one of the most menacing Bond villains of all time. That said, the influence of his dastardly but highly sophisticated plan is felt by all of the main protagonists. Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld continues to wreak his havoc with malevolent glee from his cell. He again revels in the chaos of his twisted sibling rivalry with Bond.

Lea Seydoux is wonderful again as Dr Madeleine Swann, picking up where she left off in Spectre and giving Bond as good as he gets in every way imaginable.

There are new characters who definitely cut through. Ana De Armas is utterly charming in her relatively brief time on-screen as Paloma, while Lashana Lynch takes no nonsense from Bond as Nomi. She also gives us a potential indicator as to the future direction of the franchise. Which has been the subject of much discussion in all quarters. That debate has even made its way into the political sphere with even Boris Johnson weighing in on what gender the next actor to play 007 should be.

Score

Hans Zimmer’s score is classic Hans Zimmer, adding power and bombast to the usual mix of stunning scenery and brilliantly choreographed stunts. He brilliantly weaves nods to previous entries in the Bond musical tapestry throughout his score. While his cues are always thunderous, they never overpower the action on screen, but do add a sonic rumble that I don’t think has been heard in a Bond score for quite some time. I found Fukunaga’s direction a bit mixed, with some of the cinematography unnecessarily showy. Some of the tracking shots almost gave me motion sickness while some (admittedly beautifully composed) shots of the scenery seemed to have made the edit purely so as whoever the drone operator was could demonstrate their skills.

Duration

The film is much too long, although at no point did I check my watch. It’s not that any of the plot points are superfluous, more that the pacing is a little slow in places. Some of the dialogue feels cliched and clunky, making what is a great story feel a tad generic. Which doesn’t do anyone justice. However, there were some excellent jokes, and I laughed out loud several times. You don’t have to be a 007 super fan to get some of the self-referential humour that they seem to enjoy sprinkling throughout the film.

Billie Eilish’s theme song is a worthy addition to the collection and certainly sits comfortably within the top half of the ‘Bond Theme Chart’. It’s definitely more memorable and evocative than Sam Smith’s ‘Writing On The Wall’ for Spectre. Her voice trembles at times as you can almost feel she recognises the significance of singing the theme for Daniel Craig’s final appearance in the franchise.

It was also very pleasing to see that this film has moved with the times and reflects the world of 2021 with its portrayal of women. Every single female character had a genuine purpose and important role within the plot. While of course, the female actors playing those roles are all irrefutably glamorous and attractive. There was genuine respect and no objectification of women.

Wrapping up

I came out of the screening with mixed emotions. Glad to be back in the cinema on one hand, sad that Daniel Craig’s stint ordering Martini’s was over on the other. I was pleased that such a good climax had been created to bring this era of Bond to a close, and all its story arcs had been brought to conclusions. I’m also excited and apprehensive in equal measure for the future of such an iconic film series. But I was disappointed with some of the characters not getting the necessary screen-time to truly develop their characters. Surprisingly, I was almost tearful at the final few moments, especially as the credits rolled.

Overall, this is a loving homage to the James Bond series, past and present. It’s a solid if unspectacular film in its own right, but the performances of Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux, as well as the Bond history it wraps itself in, elevate it beyond that.

It’s not Craig’s best Bond film, as Skyfall is almost untouchable in my opinion, but it does bring closure to his tenure in the tuxedo in a manner that should please Bond fans across the board. It also tantalises us as to what the 6th age of Bond will look like. Let the intense speculation begin!


CULTURE CROSSING SCORE 7/10


Thank you for reading our review of James Bond No Time To Die. Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.


Check out who we think could be the next James Bond and why HERE.

Read IMDB information about No Time To Die HERE.

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