"Paranormal Activity 4" (2012)

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
Directed by: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Running time: 88 minutes

“All the activity has led to this…”

What does that tagline suggest to you? Because to me it implies that this installment in the Paranormal Activity franchise is the big conclusion that the films have been building up to. This is the film where the Demon gets what it wants and we, the audience, find out exactly what that desire actually is and why the Demon desires it. Maybe I’m crazy, but to me that doesn’t seem like an outrageously silly conclusion to come to from observing the marketing campaign of Paranormal Activity 4. But does any of that actually happen?

Well, no. At least, not really…

Now Showing this week is Paranormal Activity 4, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman who also directed the previous installment. Set five years after the second film, Paranormal Activity 4 centres around a family in Nevada who have recently had some new neighbours move in across the street, one of which is a very strange young boy named Robbie who has taken a keen interest in the youngest son of the family named Wyatt. Alex (Kathryn Newton) is the teenage daughter in the family, and she has been noticing some weird things happening around the house ever since the family has taken Robbie into their home after his mother suffers from an accident and is taken to hospital. These weird things include odd thumping noises, stuff moving, yadda yadda yadda, you all know this dance already.

Relating back to what I was saying earlier about this film being marketed as the huge conclusion to this tale of an unstoppable demonic force, the biggest issue of this film is that basically nothing happens. I don’t mean literally, of course things happen, but in terms of the overall narrative and story-line this film contains nothing really new. There is barely any information in this film that we don’t already know from previous films, and I suppose this is due to the fact that all the characters are brand new and they have to learn everything about the Demon and there is only so much they can learn in the ninety minute running time. Whilst the previous two sequels built upon the prior knowledge of the film proceeding it (the second film introducing the payment of a first born son, the third with the feminist, Demon worshiping cult), this film adds nothing and just reinforces all that prior information. And that’s just plain lazy and unnecessary, especially when there are plenty of questions that could be given answers (like WHY does the demon want a first born son as payment for a deal? What WAS said deal, and WHO made it with the Demon? etc.). Instead, there was no attempt to develop upon any of those questions and more creepy stuff happened. Poor effort fellas!

However, there were some innovations in the film and they were all centred around the scare tactics. A lot of the film involved all the stuff we’ve seen before (swinging chandeliers, doors moving by themselves, children talking to something that isn’t visible etc.) there were two new visual methods in the film that I found to be a triumph. One was the use of webcams. The previous films used handi-cams, and security cameras to tell the story often resulting in me questioning why on earth they were taking the cameras with them where ever they went; however this film was often told from the perspective of the family’s laptops. Alex wanders around carrying her laptop while video chatting with her friend and the result is a very tight shot of her face with a limited view of her surroundings behind her. And when you catch a glimpse of something in a shot like that, the fact that we can’t easily see the rest of the surrounding environment was very effective in terms of tension. And it helped with the whole finding reasons for the characters to be carrying the cameras around, people carry laptops around the house all the time! And after Alex and her friend rig all the family’s laptops to always have the webcam running it makes the new setup work even better for the film. This is good.

But the second method of terror that works amazingly is how the film uses an Xbox 360 Kinect to its advantage. The Kinect camera (which is a motion sensing camera for the Xbox 360 for those of you who don’t know) uses infrared tracking dots to detect movement for certain video games, and when the Kinect is on and all the lights are off, if you are using a night-vision camera, you can see the dots plastered all over the living room. Paranormal Activity 4 uses this image of dots all over a dark room to show movement etc of things that the human eye cannot see but the Kinect’s tracking dots are picking up and it was awfully creepy. A very original idea and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Sadly though, I’d have to say that the film isn’t very good. I enjoyed watching it, but it was rather unsatisfying compared to what it was marketed to be. There is one large hole in the story, that I shan’t reveal for spoiler reasons, but it was a very story breaking hole; and couple that with absolutely zero effort to further develop the series’ big questions and you have a very disappointing narrative. The last ten minutes was awesomely terrifying as they always are in these films, but overall it was a pretty poor effort for the series. This film is for the die hard fans only.

See you next time!

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"Looper" (2012)

looper-poster

Looper (2012)
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Running time: 118 minutes

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that time travel is one of my favourite things to have in a story. Doctor Who is pretty much my favourite TV show and the novel Third Transmission by my brother Jack Heath is one of the best books I’ve ever read. But being a connoisseur of time travel has resulted in me being very picky and pedantic about my time travel fiction. So going in to see Looper, I was very intrigued as to how the time travel elements of the story would fit together because I knew that it was going to be a tricky one to get right and still maintain a tension filled narrative.

Did it succeed in satisfying my incredibly high standards of time travel fiction? Well, no. But I wouldn’t say it broke the movie either. Read on to find out!

Now Showing this week is Looper, directed by Rian Johnson. Set in the 2040s, Looper tells the story of a man named Joe (a made up beyond recognition Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is a specialised assassin known as a “Looper”. You see, in this future, the ability to time travel is invented in the 2070s but becomes heavily outlawed. As a result, the only people who have access to it are the incredibly rich mafia of the period, and they use it to dispose of people who crossed them. They send the people back in time to a spot where a Looper like Joe is waiting for them and the Looper kills them, then disposes of the body thirty years before the person is even reported as missing! However, Joe is faced with a challenge when his latest victim turns out to be himself from the future (played by Bruce Willis) who escapes in Joe’s moment of confusion. Now Joe (young Joe that is) must catch and kill his older self before his employers can erase the both of them. But Old Joe is back for a reason, a reason that could have catastrophic consequences…

Before I get into my nitty gritty analysis of the movie’s science fiction, I will say that from all the movie making viewpoints it is an excellent film. The cinematography, art design, soundtrack, dialogue, everything is all top quality. The acting is great, especially from the two leads Gordon-Levitt and Willis who both convey so many similarities with each other as well as differences due to age. Gordon-Levitt’s make up was very impressive I must say, he didn’t look like him at all throughout the movie. There was maybe two times where I thought his face looked a bit fake but every other time he looked like a completely different person! And lastly, the action scenes were very well made, featuring an array of weaponry akin to that of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, combining science fiction with western design. All in all, great job team!

Sadly now I must get to the inevitable “but…”. I’m sorry to say that, as much as I tried, I just couldn’t see how any of the time travel in Looper made any sense. I’m going to throw up a very minor spoiler warning here, just in case I say something you readers don’t want to read. You have been warned!

Looper is really vague with its explanations as to how its time travel mechanics work. The film establishes that changes can be made to the future in the present, so the protagonist’s have free will. They establish this initially by the mob capturing a Looper (whose future self has also escaped into the past) and begun severing his limbs. They cut off the young Looper’s hand, his future self suddenly doesn’t have that hand. And while that all makes sense, it also doesn’t because the future guy is surprised to learn that he suddenly doesn’t have a hand, when really he shouldn’t be surprised because now he should have not had that hand for thirty years since when he was the younger version of himself having that hand cut off. That means he should have arrived in the past hand-less, as well as every-other-limb-he-loses-less, and as a result he wouldn’t have been able to escape anyway because he arrived in the past limbless and the younger Looper would have killed him and so he wouldn’t have needed to have his limbs removed in the first place so then he’d have had all his limbs when he was sent back to the past to be killed by himself and he would have escaped, then his younger self would have had his limbs cut off so he then wouldn’t have ever escaped etcetera etcetera etcetera. This would go on forever and is what is called a paradox. You see my problem?

The film tries to tackle this another way later in the film when Young and Old Joe have coffee together and discuss how this whole situation works. Old Joe says that he suddenly becomes aware of Young Joe’s actions (at least, his actions that are different to his past recollections of being Young Joe) just after he does them. But again, these appear to be surprises, when really Old Joe should have now always known not only the action that Young Joe just took, but a whole lot of future actions as well because he should remember being Young Joe. But that doesn’t seem to happen, he just seems to only have one new memory and that’s it. In the aforementioned coffee scene, Young Joe asks the question of how do his actions affect his future self. Old Joe replies that they could sit here all day and talk about “this time travel shit,” and they could make diagrams to understand it but let’s just forget all that and accept it. Now I personally found that part to be quite funny because it felt to me like that was the writer talking directly to the audience and telling us not to think too hard about the mechanics of the film’s time travel, because it doesn’t really work properly and we should just sit back and enjoy the movie! And when the script itself feels it needs to acknowledge that it can’t properly explain itself then that is definitely a red flag.

Anyway, a lot of you might have realised now that Doctor Who contains a lot of paradoxical inconsistencies in it as well, and that I’m a hypocrite for loving Doctor Who and not Looper. And you would be half right. Doctor Who does have time travel hiccups in it’s story lines; however it does have a genius narrative device set in place that often clears up all the confusion and that is: the TARDIS, the Doctor’s time machine. In Looper, when the future events alter (and as a result past events since future people are coming back to the past), for some reason everyone still remembers the original series of events as well as the new ones with no explanation. In Doctor Who, this is a result of the TARDIS affecting the characters who have traveled in it. They have been exposed to the time vortex (the TARDIS’ power source) and that allows them to perceive the universe differently. It may seem like a cop out, but in science fiction there is such a thing as fictitious science so the author can make up whatever they want. But in Looper, there is no TARDIS scapegoat equivalent and it left me wanting.

But, Looper is still a very enjoyable movie. I like to think of it like Back to the Future; it’s a film that is very entertaining about the ethical ramifications of having the power to alter time, but when you properly analyse the time travel mechanics within it you will find inconsistencies and paradoxes. I liked Looper, for nothing more than a well made film that was attempting to go back to the old days of science fiction that questioned the complexities of the human condition. And that is something that definitely needs to come back!

See you next time!