Move aside, 3-D; there's a new filmmaking gimmick drawing ire for overstaying its welcome.
The once exciting found-footage subgenre of movies has now gone stale, compounded by studios realizing they can make big returns on ridiculously cheap films that unfortunately look their absurdly low budget. It's easy to forget, however, that a few of these found-footage movies have actually turned out pretty good – namely, these five – that were actually worth the motion sickness.
The fact that 2010's Norwegian monster mash "Troll Hunter" hasn't been remade yet for American audiences who fear reading subtitles like most people fear death is a pretty impressive feat. Oops, I spoke too soon; Chris Columbus, the guy behind the first two "Harry Potter" films and "I Love You, Beth Cooper," bought the rights to a remake. Color me unenthusiastic.
Before Columbus' reinterpretation hits the screen, however, give the original Norwegian film a shot. The shaky cam gets out-of-control in a few spots, but frankly that's a given with found-footage movies. Thankfully, the rest of "Troll Hunter" is enormously entertaining, featuring some awesome set-piece moments as well as some welcome levity. Plus, writer/director Andre Ovredal clearly put a lot of effort into his troll creature designs, backgrounds and logic, and it pays off. Their fascinating mythology feels almost as big as the trolls themselves, whose gargantuan stomps and growls will explode your home theater sound system. I mean that as a good thing.
Remember "Quarantine?" Remember how disappointing it was when the shot of Dexter Morgan's sister being dragged away by an invisible menace that was featured in all of the ads and posters (spoiler alert!) ended up being the last scene in the actual movie?
Well, it turns out that "Quarantine" was actually a remake – go figure – of the Spanish horror film "[Rec]." The two movies are surprisingly similar, but somehow "[Rec]" ends up significantly better. The scares are nowhere near as blatantly telegraphed, the characters are better written and the story is surprisingly believable (as opposed to the American version, which featured a military cover-up so obvious even the world's worst PI could figure it out). It certainly deserves a better legacy than "the movie that inspired 'Quarantine.'"
The first "Paranormal Activity" is a master class in getting a lot out of very little. The original film's budget was a miniscule $15,000, but it somehow pulled out more scares than most other horror movies with far larger budgets. It's a basic story wrapped around some relatively basic scare tactics, but its minimalist style works in its favor. Instead of big bombastic frights, writer/director Oren Peli slowly built up the tension until the big final freak-out.
Is it the scariest movie of all time? Absolutely not. But in terms of creating a horror film that provides jumpy thrills while also feeling real enough to actually happen, Peli's movie passes the test. Plus, there was nothing more satisfying than watching the movie in a big group, watching everyone freak out and nervously chatter themselves into relaxing again, just in time to lose their wits again in another nighttime sequence. Yourself included, of course.
"Paranormal Activity 2"
The second "Paranormal Activity" didn't add a lot to the already skimpy formula of the first film. In fact, it seems clear that, even by the second film, the creators were running out of ideas. Luckily, though, the new additions they did think up worked pretty darn well. The most jaw-droppingly obvious was the addition of daytime scare scenes, which took the audience out of the expected rhythm with jump-tacular results.
The best idea, however, was the clever method of tying the two films' stories together. Finding genuinely interesting and clever plot concepts in a horror movie – much less a horror movie sequel – is like finding the Mona Lisa amongst a pile of kindergarten finger paintings, so "Paranormal Activity 2" deserves some regard. "Paranormal Activity 3," less so.
The routine argument against 2008's "Cloverfield" is that the monster ends up being a disappointment, but isn't it always? Isn't the worst part of a horror movie when the menace is revealed and explained? Instead, I like to focus on the parts where director Matt Reeves doesn't let the audience see everything, such as the fleeting shots of the monster earlier in the film and a character's shiver-inducing demise from behind a sheet. Plus, the found-footage style is used pretty cleverly, setting up the scares nicely while still capturing the epic monster movie destruction audiences crave. There was a lot of hype for "Cloverfield" thanks to its secretive ad campaign, so backlash was inevitable. But in terms of providing fun exciting genre-based thrills and entertainment, it delivered. Let's just not make a sequel, no matter how much I know you want to, Hollywood.
Andre Ovredal didn't create the mythology behind those trolls. That was the result of a few hundred years of Norwegian folklore. Apparently there are some Norsk-specific jokes that are mostly lost on Americans, because we didn't grow up with the same stories when we were children.
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