Monday, October 25, 2010

One critic at Salon.com has got it wrong...

...about Paranormal Activity 2. If you click this link, you can read Andrew O'Hehir's review, which I found to be so condescending, frustrating and annoying that I thought I would discuss. I'm going to take points that Mr. O'Hehir has made, and then address them. Overall, he gives the film a satisfactory rating, like a C grade. But what I took issue with are certain wrong-headed ideas of what made the film so good.
In fact, the youthful and diverse Gotham audience forced me to notice an aspect of "Paranormal Activity 2" that I might not have observed on my own: Part of this franchise's pornographic allure lies in watching its blithe, privileged and supremely mediocre characters being tormented by unseen evil in their immense suburban houses, which are just a little too cookie-cutter to be called McMansions.
Okay, well you've stumbled upon a greater truth about horror movies. Congratulations. Most modern horror movies are about watching something awful happen to someone else. It's called schadenfreude. Also, what does that mean that the houses are too cookie-cutter? What is your point? That there is a level of artificiality? Inauthenticity? Yes, we know. We're not stupid - it's fiction.
It concludes, needless to say, with just enough ambiguity and people left alive to make room for "Paranormal Activity 3," possibly an NC-17 intergenerational road movie directed by Larry Clark. (Come back after you've seen the film and tell me if that joke is any good.)
That's easy. No, it's not a good joke.
Of course, applying the so-called standards of film criticism isn't especially helpful; I'm not the first to observe that movies like this have more in common with theme-park rides, video games or "Jersey Shore" than they do with "The Seventh Seal" or "Sleepless in Seattle."
Now we've gotten to the meat of Mr O'Hehir's issue. If the film is "critic-proof" and audiences will enjoy it whether or not the critics advise them to stay away, then the critic is having a dialogue with himself. I don't see how this film can be compared to either Jersey Shore, The Seventh Seal or Sleepless in Seattle. What bothers me most about this whole review is the vast level of condescension that the critic has for everybody who enjoyed this film. Is he trying to say that "movies like this" are of inherently lower quality than such "critic proof" fare as The Seventh Seal?

The language used throughout the review suggests that Paranormal Activity 2 has no intelligence, and nothing to offer save some lo-fi scares, albeit effective scares. Mr O'Hehir says things like "I'm not sure that "Paranormal Activity 2" is measurably stupider than its predecessor" or "anybody else cares about the dumbass adults in this movie".

Does Mr O'Hehir think reviewing horror movie sequels are beneath him? That's the overall feeling I got. It feels like he's even above other critics:
I'm also going to resist the widespread critical tendency to praise teenage audiences for preferring a more "psychological" movie like this to splatter-fests like the "Saw" franchise. Novelty will always draw a crowd when it's genuinely new, and the POV consumer-video horror film hasn't quite run out of juice
Here's a point that I wholeheartedly agree near the end of the review:
I don't think a cultural work is automatically better, or better for you, because it depicts no violence, and it's condescending to imagine that watching slasher movies damages the souls of 21st century teenagers.
That's well said, Mr O'Hehir.

However, your overall review suggests the film is slight, past its prime and void of any intelligence. If the movie manages the effectively scare its audience, its jaded 21st century audience who have seen a million horror clich├ęs, then Paranormal Activity 2 must have some sort of idea of how horror works.

I'm glad I'm not as jaded or as cynical about horror movies as this critic is. Though, apparently he thinks the world should be.

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