NOVEMBER 1, 2012
Despite the box art and title's suggestion that it's a spoof of Paranormal Activity, Supernatural Activity is an all-purpose parody, with most of it being a direct lift from Last Exorcism, in fact. Blair Witch Project also gets some "love", and there are nods to a half dozen other movies, including non-found footage flicks like Emily Rose and Inception. Not that I expected it to JUST spoof on Paranormal, but I was kind of surprised that it was Last Exorcism-based gags taking up most of the screentime; there's actually only one scene in the movie that mocks PA directly, I think.
It also spoofs the 371 ghost hunter shows that are on cable, specifically Paranormal State and its douchebag host (with a little Criss Angel thrown in for good measure). So each of the team members is a walking stereotype, and there's a lot of talk about the validity of the "ghosts" that they encounter - in fact one of the movie's subplots is about how the lead of the show (Damon) wants to expose his show as fake, and thus has hired a documentary filmmaker to get everything for something called "Freaky Fraud-Day". This of course is similar to Last Exorcism's idea of Cotton being an admitted fraud, but then they take things another step further by having a guy film the documentary team filming the ghost hunters, which is "explained" by a guy doing an impression of Robert Downey Jr's character from Tropic Thunder. I refused to put too much effort into thinking about it, but I assumed it was just their way of explaining why we were able to see things that no one was around to film.
And that's the thing about the movie - it's overstuffed with movie parodies that aren't necessary or even fully explained (the film's closing shot only makes sense if you've seen Inception, which doesn't exactly have the same target audience), and screenwriter Andrew Pozza goes out of his way to make, for the lack of a better word, a real story. The film's closing moments aren't even an ATTEMPT at being funny - it's actually (if I'm understanding it) a kind of sweet, dare I say poignant conclusion to the romantic subplot between Damon and Blair, one of his team members (an alleged psychic). I recently saw a trailer for another parody of these movies, one with Marlon Wayans and David Koechner, and I can tell it's nothing more than a series of gags that require nothing but an appreciation for pot humor, but here it's like you really gotta pay attention and look beyond the gags to fully digest the story.
Which makes me wonder: why didn't they just do a found footage comedy about a haunting? The direct spoofs are usually an indicator for us to turn our brains off (except the part of the brain that recognizes a movie being parodied), yet it seems like they're almost throwing these things in just to get their movie noticed. Like the one big Paranormal parody - it's an overlong sequence that just packs in a bunch of gags (Damon gets up in the middle of the night, stands there for a bit, and then checks his phone; the girl gets up and falls into the toilet because Damon neglected to put the seat down, etc.) but doesn't actually have anything to do with the real story, nor do the gags show any real effort. However, they can show a clip from it in its trailers, and use a still for its poster, which means it gets noticed at the video store. Kind of cynical, really.
Luckily, there ARE some good laughs sprinkled throughout, and something at least amused me every few minutes (I was smiling and uttering a "Hmm!" quite often), but (again) it's the parody stuff that weighs it down. Some of the direct spoofs work - I loved that the kid was completely helpful when they show up at the farm (unlike the sneering little ginger brat in Last Exorcism), yet they still treat him with hostility, and even though it was an obvious gag I still chuckled when a masseuse appeared to help the possessed girl with her back after she started contorting. The completely out of nowhere reference to the Lost third season finale was also amusing, but otherwise most of my laughs stemmed from original jokes and sight gags, like when Damon nonsensically kicks open a clearly unlocked metal gate, or when the guy who edits the show shrugs an apologetic "...it pays" after explaining how he doctors the footage to make it look exciting. The hit or miss gag unfortunately skews a bit toward the latter side, but the fact that they were legit trying to tell a real story (albeit a convoluted one) was admirable. Also, even if a joke wasn't particularly funny, they didn't go for obvious gags TOO often, so at least it wasn't completely hack, like that Wayans one looks to be. I'd rather not laugh at a joke that simply didn't work rather than not laugh because a four year old could have predicted where they were going with something.
In fact, I think the movie would have been more consistently funny had they just had a better editor. At 95 minutes, it's almost as long as Last Exorcism (and longer than Blair!), and they could have trimmed 15 minutes out easily. Certain scenes go on forever (the seance scene is excruciating), and a few gags get milked to Family Guy level extremes, such as the "you got something in your teeth" bit which is funny for a few seconds but gets annoying (and doesn't go on so long that it actually turns funny again). And I am quite confident that the movie didn't have the best post-team in the world, or else words like Exorcism and Documentary wouldn't be spelled wrong ("Excorcism" and "Documentery"). It was obviously shot a while ago, given the occasionally topical references (Charlie Sheen jokes) and that there's no mention of relatively recent found footage flicks like Devil Inside or even the Paranormal sequels, so it's odd that the editing seem like they rushed the movie out the door. In what seems like at least 18 months since production no one could spell check the damn titles? It's one thing when they're in the end credits; it's embarrassing when it's on-screen info we're SUPPOSED to read (the voiceover narrator at the beginning also doesn't quite match the on-screen text, for the record).
In short, it's not great, but it's mildly amusing enough, and thus it could have been worse. I'd rather watch it 100x before suffering through Vampires Suck again, and with at least two other parodies of this genre on the way, at least it can be the one that got here before those two, I guess (I highly doubt it's the first). The others don't have much to live up to, but sadly I'd still be amazed if either of them were better.
What say you?