The Mirror (2014) eBay Meets Paranormal Activity (Review)

The Mirror screen shot

The Mirror is essentially eBay meets “Paranormal Activity” in an English flat (apartment).  A found footage film that features a haunted mirror bought on Ebay. Three friends team up to film the thing for a million dollar contest.  Things obviously begin to go wrong but at such as slow uninteresting pace that the viewer struggles to maintain interest.

Written and directed by Edward Boase the film starts with the friends excited at the prospect of winning the grand prize and dealing with a haunted object.  The mirror is delivered that they hang it on the wall.

Matt (Joshua Dickinson)  is the first of the friends to be affected but the mirror and his state of mind and behavior changes over time. Jemma (Jemma Dallender) is initially angry at her boyfriends awkward attitude. This changes to concern over time though.  Steve (Nate Fallows) is the cameraman who really wants something to happen so they can win the big prize. 

It begins with Matt sleepwalking and standing in front of the mirror for so long he wets himself. He then continues to sleepwalk through the flat while wearing a GoPro camera strapped to his chest.  Matt refuses to show the footage to either Steve or Jemma.

The Mirror does eventually   speed up but by that time the audience really have lost interest.  (Although the attempted attack on the path is effectively done.) The main problem is that apart from the emphasis on kitchen knives the movie really is Paranormal Activity but in a flat with one bedroom and a box room.

The use of “unknowns” in the key roles was a good move. Sadly events throughout most of the film are far too low-key. Then the  three protagonists spend far too much time bickering and it is distracting and annoying.

In many ways the film can be considered a triumph.  Filmed on a shoestring budget of £20,000 The Mirror was influenced by the true story of two flatmates who salvaged a haunted mirror from a rubbish skip. The men were tormented by bumps in the night and physical attacks, in the forms of scratches.

The story inspired Edward Boase but unfortunately, presumably due to the low budget, opted for the found footage format.

(It should be mentioned that on IMDb someone mentions the use of pepper spray or “OC” spray as a deterrent in one scene. These type of defense sprays are illegal in the United Kingdom.   The spray  used was would most likely have been deodorant or body spray.)

The Mirror does end on a “high” note but uses subtitles far too similar to Paranormal Activity and loses its edge as a result.  The effects, for such a low budget feature, are pretty impressive.  Sadly the slow pace and the meandering storyline take away from the effectiveness of the ending.

This is Ed Boase’s second feature length film and in terms of putting the whole thing together proves that this is a director to keep an eye on.  Hopefully his next inspired film will be a bit faster on the uptake.

This low/no budget horror film is a 3 star film. It earns a higher rating due to the performances and the fact that it does pick up at the end. Streaming on Netflix at the moment, fans of found footage may have a look.

 

Area 51 (2015) Six Years Too Late

Freon suited and booted in Area 51 Directed and co-written by Oren Peli (Christopher Denham was the other writer on the film) and starring a cast of unknowns, Area 51 began production in 2009 and took until 2015 to be released in a limited run that netted Peli and the studios an abysmal $7K.  

For what ever reason this “found footage” film from Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli lived in purgatory until this year. Sadly, the film could have worked much better with a release date nearer the time of PA. By this point and time “found footage” films have worn out their welcome.

Ignoring the blatant product placement at the start of the film, where the camera moves in for a close up of the Sony personal cams to be worn by the group’s members. (And ignoring that fact that these particular models have most likely been replaced by smaller better versions six years later.) The story of a group of UFO enthusiasts who outsmart Area 51 security to find some amazing, and deadly, secrets underground entertains, but just barely.

Perhaps the biggest let down of the film is the decision to keep any real action from making an appearance till the back end of the feature. Using two-thirds of the film as buildup just does not work and the action, when it does make an appearance is not enough to make this a great experience.

The storyline is interesting enough and the scenes where the group talk to UFO experts and then break into an Area 51 employee’s house are good. The breaking and entering set piece keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, but sadly, there are not enough of these tense moments.

When the small group finally get to their objective, there are some interesting things waiting for them. Unfortunately, even the decision to not show the alien who chases the young people through the labyrinth does not really up the fear ante.

The news is not all bad. Peli manages to make this film feel like a documentary. The interviews at the beginning, the real-life “experts” and the “interviews” the young men do with the “locals” at the Little A’Le’Inn all go toward making this feel like a fly-on-the-wall feature. This works well, but is not enough to compensate for the worn out sub-genre of found footage horror.

With Peli’s brain-child, and mega-hit, Paranormal Activity spawning a slew of sequels that will, apparently, be re-created and added to till the end of time, the scares have been overdone in those films. Even the director’s “homage” to the first film via Jelena Nik (as Jelena) standing stock still in an trance is more annoying than amusing or clever.

The actors all do well in their appointed roles; Reid Warner, Darren Bragg, and Ben Rovner all convince us as the young men who get caught up in their obsession. Timing, as they say, is everything however and as mentioned previously had this film been released back in 2009 it might have found an audience.

The scares and the manner of delivery feels six years old. Outdated, outmoded, perhaps this one was doomed to VoD and the DVD bargain basement bin from the start. Area 51 suffers from its delayed release and is now nothing more than a curiosity and a pale reflection of other films that did it better (think V/H/S).

Area 51 is a 2.5 out of 5 stars and is on US Netflix at the moment. Worth a look but most assuredly not worth two. Horror fans may get a little more out of the viewing but this could well signal the death of found footage horror films…

Please let it be so.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) Closes the Loop…Not

Jesse in Paranormal Activity 5
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the next in this long running franchise that started back in 2007 with a low/no budget production that starred largely unknown actors in a variation of the “found footage” genre. The first film, written and directed by Oren Peli was made for the staggering low price of $15k and, to-date, has grossed over $102 million. Peli bowed out after the first one, although he still gets credit in the writing area and as producer.

Out of the sequels, only Paranormal Activity 3 matched the first in the series, making over $102 million gross but the film’s production costs had skyrocketed to $5 million. While the franchise is still wildly successful, in terms of gross versus production costs, it has never reached the heights that the Peli original reached in terms of profit margin.

The film started with a young couple and then in Paranormal Activity 2 drifted to the young woman in the first film and her sister. Each film moves forward along the time line, until “4” where they go back to the girls childhood.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, besides moving into the barrio “Holmes,” jumps forward to blend in with the time of Paranormal Activity, the first one. Confusing yes, but overall, the plot device is unobtrusive and only really becomes apparent in the final frames of the film.

This version of the Paranormal verse has Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) who are best friends, getting involved with the verse and even though they find videos “Old School, Holmes” one says, they do not watch them. The tapes are found in the apartment of the woman that the two friends have a fixation on. Their downstairs neighbor Ana (Gloria Sandoval) who is the local Bruja (witch) and the target of Jesse’s pranks and imagination.

After videoing the woman painting a symbol on a naked pregnant woman’s stomach, things begin to go weird for Jesse. He develops powers and disturbing symptoms. Another lad, Oscar (played by Carlos Pratts), murders Ana, and then dies himself. Jesse and Hector enlist the help of Marisal (Gabrielle Walsh) and they discover a world where babies are marked for possession in the womb.

The trio ask Oscar’s brother, Arturo (Richard Cabral) to help them to stop what is happening to Jesse. The group turn up at the same house featured in “4” and Hector ends up in the house from the first in the series where Katie is killing Micah. This all seems to bring the film back to its beginning.

However, there is now another film, due out October 15, 2015 titled, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and it looks like the verse is not done with sisters Katie and Kirsti. This franchise has turned into a veritable cash cow for anyone who wishes to continue the story.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (rather interesting for a title, presumably the producers thought that Paranormal Activity 5 was too obvious) could have closed the series off, even with its somewhat “open” ending. The sad truth is, the films do deliver well enough in the terms of scares and entertainment. Grossing enough profit for the filmmakers to justify their churning out more money making sequels till the public tire of them.

In this iteration of the verse, there are not many jump scare moments and the FX used in at least two of the scenes have been done elsewhere, V/H/S and Chronicle both used various versions of the flinging people about stunts seen here. While the film does boast a few original thoughts, the way it tells the story suffers from a sincere lack of creativity.

At one point, Jesse finds something in his eye, pulling the offending article out, it is revealed to be a long piece of black stuff. He then goes to pull the same item out of his other eye. As creepy and stomach churning as this scene is, it has been done before in countless J-Horror and Asian horror films.

Still, they must be doing something right as evidenced by the gross profits. Admittedly, the film does deliver, despite the lack of originality issues, and it is creepy and unnerving. Whether it is the combination of white noise and muffled roaring that precedes each event or just the camera angles and the storyline itself. The film works on one level or another.

For one thing, there are moments of humor, admittedly not many, but the scenes where Jesse discovers his “powers” prove to be quite funny. There are also moments that can best be described as uncomfortable, as when Jesse takes Hector and Marisa and gate crash a party. Although this too has at least one amusing moment.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is streaming on US Netflix at the moment and this is, perhaps, the best medium for watching this latest in the franchise. It is definitely not one to have seen in the cinema but it does work exceedingly well at home…in the dark…alone.

3.5 out of 5 stars despite its lack of originality.

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012): Flogging a Dead Horse

Unknown

After watching this fourth trip to the Paranormal “well” several metaphors sprang immediately to mind. The first one became part of the title; Flogging a dead horse, the second was hinted at in my first sentence; going to the well once too often and the third was, appropriately enough, trying to get milk when the cow’s run dry.

I am sure that I could think of more “sayings” to describe my feelings about this film; I know I had 97 minutes to come up with as many as my little brain could conceive. Since this fourth bite of the Paranormal Activity apple (see there’s another one) was poorly conceived and perhaps the most boring of all the PA’s to date.

Just in case you’re interested, and I realise that you probably aren’t but bear with me here, the film was directed by the team of  Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman which actually amazes me. This is the same team that brought us the incredible and exemplary 2010 documentary film Catfish and the “miles-better-than-this-rubbish” 2011 Paranormal Activity 3. It completely boggles the brain that two such capable film directors would willingly put their names on such dross.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like the Paranormal franchise. I enjoyed the first ultra low-budget film and did not mind the second one with its slightly larger budget. And since the third one took the story in a different direction, I quite enjoyed that one as well. I did think, however, that they should have stopped at 3.

The film starts with a short “home video” of Aunt Katie (the crazy one from the first film) bringing a present to nephew Hunter. The location is Carlsbad, CA and the setting of the second film – sis’ house. The screen then goes dark and proceeds to tell us that Hunter was kidnapped.

Auntie Katie trespassing...uh-oh.
Auntie Katie trespassing…uh-oh.

We are then treated to a replay of the end of the second film. Okay! With me so far? Now at the beginning of the film no mention, however oblique, is made of the third in the series. It will be referred to later but in a very off-handed fashion and you have to be looking for it. I was bored so I noticed it.

After being treated to a “soccer” game with a group of young boys, one of whom is not playing but standing at one end of the pitch with what appear to be giant worry beads around his neck, we meet our main protagonist’s for this part of the saga.

Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), older sister Alex (Kathryn Newton), Mum Holly  (Alexondra Lee ), Dad Doug (Stephen Dunham ) and a little later boyfriend Ben ( Matt Shively ). This is the family that will be drug into the paranormal verse. We also meet their next-door neighbours son Robbie (Brady Allen ) who gets taken in when his mother gets sent to the “hospital.”

It will come as no surprise that Robbie’s “mother” is Katie (Katie Featherston ) from the first film.

The plot device in this version of Paranormal Activity is the use of mobile (cell) phone cameras and webcams (or Skype or iChat) to record the events as they “oh so slowly” unfold. Despite the use of sound (they utilise the “rumbling” sound to the maximum extent possible) the pace and the tension are just not there.

In this film they included the ability of the “demon” to manifest in daylight and someone came up with the bright idea of using the Xbox Kinect “night-vision” setting to “see” the demon or deity or whatever it is in the dark. I got quite annoyed. My Kinect doesn’t have that setting and if it does, I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere. So you have to ask yourself the question. Does Kinect really have that capability or is this a phoney baloney device set up by the film’s producer’s and director’s?

I want to see scary shit with my Kinect damn it!
I want to see scary shit with my Kinect damn it!

Who knows?

More importantly, who cares?

Certainly not me, I felt incredibly let down by this film. It did not look like the rest, even with the re-appearance of Katie from the first film. The family was too attractive. They did not have the same “real” look as the other casts for the other films. Alex and her family looked like any casting director’s idea of an upper-middle class American as apple-pie family. Although I could be wrong about their salary tier. I’m not sure how many houses in America have a computer to tell them that: “The garage door is opening.”

On a side note, I noticed that Jennifer Hale, the voice actress for the female Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect verse was credited as doing some voice-over work in the film, I wonder if she was the computerised voice that announced the doors opening and closing. If she was, how cool is that! 

Okay, geeky fanboy rant over, I’ll try to sum up my lukewarm feelings about the film.

I’d have to give it a 2 stars out of 5 and it only gets that much because I did jump once during the film. I am glad that I did not see this at the cinema as I would have thrown my popcorn at the screen and demanded my money back. Okay, I am exaggerating a little bit here, I wouldn’t ask for my money back.

Avoid this fiasco of a film and if it comes on regular telly…change the channel.

Even Alex is unimpressed by this film.
Even Alex is unimpressed by this film.

The Last Exorcism (2010): A New “Old” Trend of Film Making

1999’s The Blair Witch Project started a trend of “found footage” films. As a trend making film, Blair Witch not only opened the door for a new type of film, but it also showed how use of the internet could be used to publicize your film and how to build an audience before the film’s release.

There is an old saying that goes like this, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” In the film world the saying could be changed to, “Imitation is the sincerest form of a successful film.” That Blair Witch was successful is beyond question. Shot on a shoestring budget of 500 to 750 thousand dollars, the film raked in an astounding 248 million box office dollars. Is it any wonder that this new “genre” of films has become a norm at the box office?

The only other film to show that much return on investment was the 2007 film Paranormal Activity with its budget of 15 thousand dollars and an unbelievable box office return of over 193 million dollars. P A was another film to utilize the internet as a valid and lucrative marketing forum. There are other film makers out there that have taken the Blair Witch formula as their template and done well in the box office department.

The Last Exorcism takes a leaf from Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity with its found footage scenario and tossed in a “mockumentary” theme. The film is a “documentary” of an exorcist who lives and works in the American south (Baton Rouge, Louisiana). Father Cotton Marcus (played by actor Patrick Fabian) uses a combination of psychiatry and “smoke and mirrors” via electronic means to “cure” the possessed person.

He has a pretty high success rate. But this man of the cloth is a cynic. He does not really believe in demonic possession, he does believe that the victims do and he treats them in a manner that reflects their belief. Father Marcus is retiring from the world of exorcism and a camera crew is documenting his last exorcism.

The film follows Father Marcus on his last case and we meet the victim, a young girl named Nell (which immediately brought up visions of Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop), her father and her brother, who is not pleased to see this group of film makers and the good Father descend upon his home. The brother, Caleb is downright hostile to the entire “congregation” and derides the Father at every opportunity.

By the power of my electronics leave this girl.

Father Marcus performs two exorcisms on Nell and finds out that his opponent is all too real and won’t react to his psychological exorcism.

It terms of style, the film conveys it documentary “feel” very well. It looks and sounds like the real deal. Directed by the German independent film maker Daniel Stamm and filmed with “shaky cam” (a technique where camera stabilization is dispensed with giving the film a “guerrilla” and more realistic look) Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) is one of the producers of the film. Marketing for the film was done via a chat room website (Chatroulette) using a viral campaign approach. It was to a degree quite successful, with a budget of 1.8 million dollars and a return of over 67 million dollars the profit is not as impressive as either Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity but with enough of a profit margin to elicit a sequel.

I will say that the film did look like a documentary to me. Stamm did a very good job of letting the run up to the action of the film feel quite mundane and not a little disappointing. The reveal at the beginning of the film that Cotton Marcus (Did you get the play on the name here? Cotton Mather Salem witch trials anyone?) is a man who does not believe in demons nor the idea of demon possession is disturbing; especially as he works as an exorcist who uses the “power of Christ” to cure the afflicted.

The cast do a brilliant job in their roles helping to sell the “reality” of the people and the story. I enjoyed the film very much and can say that I was genuinely surprised at the ending. I do not do a star rating on films, but if I did, The Last Exorcism would get 5 out of 5 stars for originality.

As the sequel is coming out in March 2013 it wouldn’t hurt to see the film before seeing the sequel. I think you will enjoy it.

Are we having fun yet?