Film Shots: Paranormal Activity 3 and Attack the Block

Paranormal Activity 3: 4/5

I think this review would’ve been better suited last Monday, but oh well. The Paranormal Activity franchise has become a Halloween tradition, much like in the vein of the Saw series. The difference is that the Saw series was running out of steam by the first sequel, while Paranormal Activity has still found a way to cleverly spook the masses. Mind you, I don’t know how a fourth sequel will be able to deliver the chills without completely killing the “found footage” premise, but after seeing Paranormal Activity 3, I look forward to see what this horror franchise can cook up. Keeping in line with the two previous installments, this third entry looks at specters in the shadows through the glowing technology of home cameras. The only catch is that where the first two films took place in modern-day, our third venture with demons goes all the way back to the 80’s, a time where bad hair and fashion were mandatory, and the franchise’s protagonists, Kristy and Katie, were merely adolescents. As you can probably guess, our friendly demon, the one who can’t seem to walk anywhere without dropping pots and pans, gets his first glance at the girls he will terrorize for decades. In a weird way, we’re looking at a love story here.

Nonetheless, haunting shenanigans take place, and the family that surrounds our future scream queens end up getting more than they bargained for. I would hate to waste up precious space in describing the plot because it holds true to the previous films. But I must say that there is a disarming family dynamic to the film that lulls the viewer into a false sense of security. Their tight camaraderie makes the demonic efforts all the more harrowing. Considering it’s the 80’s, the film’s directors, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, have to find a way to integrate the 80’s blooming technology with the premise’s structure. Talk about a difficult task, but they pull it off with clever inventions like a camera mounted to an oscillating fan that pans from left to right in a painstakingly slow manner. It’s this little invention that ends up getting most of the scares. Being that this is also a sequel (or technically a prequel…), there are definitely moments that are bigger and more inclined to jump scare tactics (keep your eye on the kitchen), but their potency are on par with the minimalistic touches found in the first two entries.  Of course, the film does fall victim at times to moments of idiocy. This mainly occurs where one of our protagonists continuously brings his camera with him to investigate a dark corner. Outside of this error, the film possesses smart thrills and a dark ending that puts the series in an interesting position going forward.

Attack the Block: 3.75/5

Attack the Block seems like it should be a funny film. It isn’t. Sure, it has moments of snappy dialogue and socioeconomic jokes that are peppered throughout, but its strength is the frightening doom that hails from outer space. For those who need to know, it’s a distinctively British film. From its humor to its heavy accents, it takes a certain level of wit. But with a little bit of patience and some semblance of healthy hearing, one shouldn’t find it hard to be entranced by this alien thriller. As it would be, Attack the Block follows the hard knock life of five hoodlums. Lead by their fearless leader Moses (John Boyega), not a shade above 15, the boys obsess over playing FIFA and holding people up for money and their valuables. These particular activities were merely child’s play in regards to where the kids were heading (likely drug runs for the neighborhood’s shoot first kingpin). After holding up an innocent woman, Sam, played by the lovely Jodie Whittaker, the boys are disrupted by a cataclysmic crash from space that occurs within a few feet. From the meteoric crash comes a hairy animal that treads on the boy’s masculinity and street credit. Moses disposes of the animal like an alpha male. Little does he know that such an action has elicited a universal response. Soon, doglike aliens, who are behemoths with glowing teeth, are stalking the neighborhood the boys call home aka The Block. I must admit, the design of the “dog aliens” is pretty fantastic.

With the aliens close behind, the boys face a multitude of challenges that range from a hell-bent drug kingpin to the pursuit from Britain’s boys in blue. If only our hoodlums played their video games instead. What ensues next are terrific action sequences that put the boys in continuous peril. First time director Joe Cornish does a fantastic job of making use of the boy’s distinctive environment and raising the stakes by making their problems meeting at the same junctures. Furthermore, Cornish’s testicular fortitude to kill off characters at any moment gives the film an edge that cuts deep. You know anything can happen when a fifteen year old can be disposed of in a grisly way. All of this ultimately leads to a crossroads of class respect and the boys atoning for their past behaviors. This transformation doesn’t develop easily, especially considering how short the film is and how long it takes for the boys to shift our paradigm. Yet, somehow, Attack the Block takes a crew of unlikable characters and makes them enjoyable. I’m not willing to say I loved these characters, but everything fell into place when it needed to. Despite this stunted development, Attack the Block makes for an exciting directorial debut.


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