Monday, 7 December 2009

Scary Movies.

In the past week or two, I have seen two contemporary horror films of very differing styles and, in my opinion, quality: "Paranormal Activity" and "The Descent part 2".

"Paranormal Activity" is, of course, the "Blair Witch"-style, found-footage flick about a young couple who suspect supernatural wackiness to ensue in their house, so they set up a video camera to record what goes down while they've got their heads down. What ensues is a catalogue of tried and tested Haunted House gags which slowly escalates into something genuinely surprising and creepy.

"The Descent pt. 2" is a sequel/rehash of a movie called "The Descent", surprisingly, in which a bunch of thrill-seeking ladies went caving and got mostly eaten by what appeared to be Gollum's extended family. Pretty much the same thing happens in the sequel, except it's the rescue team that goes after the women that's getting munched on.

Both films set out to unsettle, shock and scare the viewer, both use the fear of the dark, the unseen, the unknown to create atmosphere, but it's how they pay off the apprehensive tension that separates them.

"The Descent" falls into the typical sloppy horror film trap of thinking LOUD NOISES are scary. It's the kind of film that makes you jump without even realising why you're jumping. You are startled by the soundtrack going "BBAAAAHHH!" before you've even realised a monster has popped out or summat: "SHIT, that was loud! Oh, and there's a monster."

Of course, "Paranormal Activity" also relies heavily on sound design to scare, the difference being that the scary noises are actually diegetic to the action on screen. The audience and the characters are hearing the same thing and are therefore unified in their "SOMEBODY'S COMING UP THE STAIRS!" terror.

"Paranormal Activity" is a resolutely old-fashioned horror film, slowly building to a fever pitch and unleashing its secret weapons only when the time is right. This is not going to win over many contemporary horror fans looking for the next slapstick death-scene or "BOO!" jump-scare, but it creeps quietly into the open mind and sits there, festering in the imagination for a long time after the lights go up.

"The Descent" is less old fashioned, coming across as one of those "more-but-less-of-the-same" horror film sequels from the 80s. Nonsensical twists and contrived characters and plotting derail any empathy for the victims as they careen from one bloody set-piece to the next like chunks of meat for the grinder.

Both films go for the old jump-cut-to-black final shock punchline ending, but one leaves you going "Erm... hang on, that didn't make any sense..." and the other leaves you going going "I don't think I should sleep alone tonight. Or ever again." Guess which is which?

So, what is it that makes a film scary? Perhaps more than any other genre, Horror is entirely subjective to the eyes and minds of its audience. What fills the pants of one viewer, might simply tickle another. Freud reckoned that what scared people the deepest was the uncanny: the familiar made unfamiliar. Ordinary made extra. By that rationale, only cavers should find "Descent 2" scary. But then Freud also said we all fancy our parents, so I'm not gonna take his word for much.

In conclusion, if you like creeping dread, suggestive scares and unsettling atmosphere, have a look at "Paranormal Activity", and if you like "YAH BOO!" jumps, creepy creatures and bathing in blood, then peep "The Descent". The first one. Part 2 is just a ropey retread with none of the skill of the original.


  1. I loooove horror movies!

    But it's hard to find some really good ones: usually, I'm more upset than pleased after watching one. I always think it's going to be better than it is.

    And you're right about the loud noises!! Seriously, in the movie "The Ring", there was a loud bang during the movie, because the MC closed a door or something...anyway, this little nothing is what got the most reaction out of us!

    What did you think of "the orphan?"


  2. I tend to find films that are all about suspense and not about effects far scarier so I guess Paranormal Activity would be the one for me

    Kate x

  3. Sarah: The orphan was the one about the freaky adopted girl, right? I didn't see it, personally. Any good?

    Kate: Paranormal Activity is all about the imagination. A lot of people ridicule it because "nothing happens" or "it's boring" but I highly recommend it if you don't need slam-bang action-horror stylings in your flick.

    Cheers for comments!

  4. Hey!

    Well, there's a twist at the end of "the orphan", which makes it kinda worthwhile. But if you know it, skip the movie! :P


  5. Good review! One of my friends is really afraid of horror films and wouldn't watch any, I told her to mute the sound and it won't be scary, she tried it on one scene and found it much easier to watch so I get what to say about the loud noises. Obviously you can't really watch it all on mute tho!

    I haven't watched all of PA yet...I was given a copy of it and I didn't have time to watch it all so silly me I watched the end! To me that is a 'proper' horror film if you know what I mean. It doesn't show anything and has no SFX but its more real. I'll definately have to give it my undivided attention.

  6. Great review. Not seen either but I'm very excited about Paranormal Activity. People have said it's boring but I'm sure it's going to be great, I love that stuff.

  7. Great post.
    Thank you for visiting my blog.
    Have a nice weekend!

  8. Sarah: I do know the twist, unfortunately. Occupational hazard.

    Ali: I bet you're one of those people who flip to the last page of the book as soon as you pick it up!

    Sarah from SS: You should definitely have a look at PA, as it's a film that any horror fan should experience and have an opinion about, whereas Descent 2 is nowt you haven't seen before.

    Astrogalaxy: Cheers for stopping by. You stay classy!

    Thanks for all comments!