Gavin Grades The Movies

Paranormal Activity 3

Goddamnit!  The Paranormal Activity movies are some of the most fun and most scared you can have in a theater.  From the very first seconds of all these films, you’re put on edge.  Part of that is because you know what’s in store for you but the home movie, do-it-yourself aspect of the films give you this impression that you’re right there with these characters and you’re just as alone as they are.  They’re the kind of horror film that makes you want to be a horror director since they are the closest to duplicating the sensations you feel as you walk through a haunted house that I’ve ever experienced.

In the third (and hopefully final) installment, we find ourselves in 1988 at the beginning of the story to find out what happened to our lovely ladies from the first two films when they were younger.  Yes!  This is EXACTLY what I was hoping for in a trilogy, but sadly Paranormal Activity 3 made the fatal mistakes that any prequel runs the risk of doing.  If you’re gonna be the ballsy bastard that wants to take on a popular franchise and show us how it all began, those puzzle pieces need to line up perfectly for us.  I don’t want any air bubbles trapped in between since in the end that will make me ask more questions than feel the satisfaction of knowing the answers.  That’s a killer for a prequel.

Paranormal Activity 3 attempted to answer all the questions, and they did answer some, but its execution is confusing and doesn’t gel with the legacy we’ve come to know.  There are HUGE holes in the plot of this film and it makes me wonder how such glaring problems could have passed through the hands of so many people who made it.  I can’t tell you what they are without giving away some spoilers.  I also won’t because if you don’t remember the story up to this point, it won’t ruin the movie for you at all…in fact it might make it better.  Also, if you never saw the first two films, you’ll probably enjoy this more than if you were a massive fan of the first two.

The “found footage” approach to this one feels more forced than before, however directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman did incorporate one of the most suspenseful film techniques ever in a modified oscillating desk fan that might be the scariest character in the film.  I don’t blame Joost and Schulman for the movie’s shortcomings at all.  These were the two guys that brought us an equally scary but totally different movie called Catfish.  This was a documentary about predatory online delusions (listen to my interview with both of them at the bottom of this review) and being documentarians brought a fresh aspect to this mockumentary franchise.

Although I liked this one the least in the series, it’s far from disappointing in the scare-the-s**t-out-of-you trademark.  There are few horror movies that can build such palpable tension that it makes me shield my eyes from the screen like a kid, but these consistently do just that.  I just wish it kept me up at night by making me remember all the terrifying moments rather than keeping me up trying to figure out how the stories come together.

Paranormal Activity  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+

here to listen to the interview with directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Review Coming Soon...

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The Thing

Horror icon, John Carpenter, brought us The Thing in 1982.  It was one of the first horror movies I watched as a kid where I had my mind blown over what could be done with special FX makeup!  It was absolutely amazing to watch a man's head fall off his shoulders, sprout spider legs and eyes and then crawl away.  If you never saw the original and that sentence makes you think the exact opposite of "amazing," then this prequel to the 29-year-old original will do nothing for you because what made the original so amazing was the prequel's undoing.  I love prequels.  I think it's really fun to watch what happened before the movie you already love.  In the original they talk about the camp that discovers the alien that can shape-shift into any other living thing but you never see it.  That camp is what this film is all about but it's the exact same story.  There is almost no difference between the two, even in the choice of casting Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Animal Kingdom) as the hero because when dude sports a beard he looks EXACTLY like Kurt Russell, who was the hero in the original.  I did like that the true star of the film was a woman, who was played by the gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Death Proof).  It makes me think of Ripley in the Alien franchise although she's far from the tough-as-nails that Sigourney Weaver trademarked!  I love the aspect of how isolating this film is.  It takes place in Antarctica which is so cold and lonely that it might as well be space.  Not only that, but I love the spookiness of untrust, where the killer could be lurking inside the skin of any one of the main characters.  It makes it a very unique horror film that also comes with the joy of seeing great monster makeup and FX.  Sadly, I saw ALL of that in the original and this one doesn't break any new ground.  It's almost like new director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (no, my cat didn't walk across my keyboard...that's his name) assumed that no one saw the first one and could get away with just remaking it.  I'm not against remakes either.  If they're done well, I think they can potentially be better than the original.  But I think prequels are way better and I especially don't appreciate it when prequels don't want to call themselves remakes, which is exactly what The Thing did.  Is it scary?  Not really.  Is it cool?  At times.  They disapointed me at times by using CGI to create some of the monster FX the original accomplished with old school make-up AND still looked faker than it did in 1982, but I give the studio credit in simply trying to make a monster movie again; something that sadly seems to have vanished from the lanscape.  But in a movie about a killer alien that can carbon copy itself into anything, I wish The Thing didn't carbon copy itself into the 1982 original. The Thing  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C+
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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Guillermo Del Toro is rapidly becoming a favorite filmmaker by both critics and fanboys alike.  He's the genius director behind such incredible fantasy horror movies like Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone and Cronos.  He's also the genius director behind such incredible comic book actions like Hellboy and Blade II.  But sadly, he didn't direct Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Del Toro produced this movie.  That doesn't give it a death sentence at all.  In fact, just the opposite.  He's done that with cinematic awesomeness like The Orphanage and Biutiful.  He's even gotten involved in animation movies like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Megamind.  But something went wrong with this film.  Don't Be Afraid of the Dark starts off as scary, then becomes creepy, and ends up being silly. It's really too bad because the film, which is based on a made-for-TV film from 1973, is a classic gothic creature-feature horror film.  It's about a family that moves into a gorgeous old mansion only to discover that it was already inhabited by another group...blood-thirsty little fiends that crave little children's body parts.  Wow!  Just typing that out makes it sound so much better than it actually is.  It's far tamer from the gruesome premise seems to be.  But it's not so much the plot running out of steam that makes this film so lackluster; it's also the performances. Katie Holmes (Batman Begins, Tom Cruise's bedroom) and Guy Pearce (The King's Speech, Memento) are the couple who fight off the amassing goblins.  Both are fine actors and have performed well in the past, epecially Pearce; but in this they walk through the script like they both are in dress rehearsals.  The shining star of the film is the daughter played by the young Bailee Madison.  She carries this entire movie on her back with a fantastic performance.  She's also the little girl in Brothers and the only funny thing about the Adam Sandler movie Just Go With It. With Don't Be Afraid of the Dark she really gets a chance to show us what she's got though.  She's undoubtedly the star of the film and looks legitimately terrified of the little beasties that are after her.  What impressed me even more is that she had to act that way while looking at nothing since all the monsters were CGI.  Another disappointment since Del Toro is known for using mostly old school movie monster make-up and puppets. That undersells the quality of the creatures though.  The FX used for them are very, very well done.  They do look real and give you the heebie-jeebies in many of the scenes that prey on your fear of the dark and what's under the covers.  But just when you're thinking that they are a force to be scared of, they turn into some kind of comedic monsters you'd expect to see in Jim Henson's Labyrinth.  That decision might have been the fault of first-time director Troy Nixey.  I'm not going to say that he's in over his head though since the film stinks of gothic horror in that it boasts incredible sets and heavy atmosphere that invokes a 1920s Hammer Film feel. It's a big red flag that this movie was not going to live up to the A+ trailer that was released over a year ago because that's when the film was shot. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was filmed early in 2010 and went through lots and lots of post production work to make it presentable.  I guess it should have been put through a little more work since it isn't scary.  But maybe that's just truth in advertising - there really isn't any reason to be afraid of the dark in this film. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C
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