DVD Review: Paranormal Incident / Cert: 15 / Director: Matthew Bolton / Screenplay: Chris W. Freeman / Starring: Amanda Barton, Keith Compton, Thomas Downey, Brett Edwards / Release Date: Out Now
“Paranormal Activity exists” one character says, as an intrepid gang of filmmakers head to the possibly haunted Odenbrook Hospital to film their documentary. It's a ballsy move on Paranormal Incident's part, name-checking the very movie it's attempting to cash in on. “We were having fun until the Paranormal Activity statement,” says someone else. Quite.
To be fair, Paranormal Incident owes much more to The Blair Witch Project and House on Haunted Hill than it does Paranormal Activity – the story being about a group of spook sceptics who spend the night locked in a haunted sanatorium, now closed for business. Like Cannibal Holocaust, its purported found footage scenes are bookended by a more traditional drama in which a detective questions one of the survivors as he lies on his hospital bed. Unfortunately, the scripted studio horror is just as bad as the found footage stuff.
Paranormal Incident is a film suffering from a serious identity crisis. It seems to have no idea what it wants to be – found footage, scripted drama, serious devil horror, sinister conspiracy movie or jaunty comedy – so tries to be all these things at once. It does none of them well and there's no sense of cohesion. This is evident immediately, when the opening credits play a bizarrely cheerful tune over an amateurish set of visuals. In the middle, there's a comically bad piece of footage (found footage within a found footage movie) supposedly made when the hospital was still open. The idea worked better when it was done in Severance – a Danny Dyer movie, of all things. Towards the end, the story gives up on the found footage motif entirely and enters flashback mode, complete with fancy camerawork and a loud soundtrack. It's good to have ambition, but sometimes you've got to know your limits. It's as though the filmmakers made one movie, realised that it wasn't very good, and made a shorter one to tie it together.
Which is a shame, since there is some very creepy imagery buried amongst the over-familiar Most Haunted and Paranormal Activity stuff. Found footage isn't an inherently bad subgenre of horror, but it has become terribly overdone of late. Where the forefathers of found footage would take us into the exotic mighty jungle to see terrible, terrible things, modern filmmakers (Apollo 18's Moon landing aside) spend far too much time in dark woods or gloomy corridors. And the only difference between this and an episode of Most Haunted is that the acting in Most Haunted is (marginally) more convincing and better scripted. There have been worse films in the subgenre lately (the abysmal Tape 407, for example) but none so bizarre.
The story, in which noisy students film a documentary in a supposedly haunted sanatorium, does not promise great things. There are interesting touches (the footage being laced with leftovers from a character's sex tape) and chilling moments, but not nearly enough. As the group realise that they're in trouble, the film descends into a predictable climax in which everyone runs around screaming before being dragged away into the darkness, one by one. It goes by an alternate title of The Paranormal Incident, but it's probably wise that the article be removed. The central 'incident' has been done so many times by now that it should be called 'A' Paranormal Incident instead. Then there's the ending, which is remarkably similar to a scene from Captain America: The First Avenger. But by that point, you'll be used to it. Maybe even slightly charmed. Bad as it is, it's never unwatchable, and the pace prevents it from ever getting boring.
Had it the conviction to be one thing or the other, Paranormal Incident could have been merely forgettable. Instead, it's memorable for all of the wrong reasons.
Special Features: None