Written by Mathew Bolton and Chris W. Freeman
Directed by Matthew Bolton
In the world of found footage horror, paranormal investigations are the topic du jour. Grab a couple of cameras, gather up some friends, and spend a few nights shooting in a spooky locale; and you’ll quickly join the ranks of hundreds of amateur filmmakers eager to break into the horror industry. While the ubiquity of “ghost hunting” found footage horror is becoming played out, it’s not because the topic is getting boring; no, it’s because no one can do it right, and there’s no better example of how not to do a found footage paranormal investigation movie than Paranormal Incident.
Presented in the tried and true guise of a student project, Paranormal Incident follows a group of young adults as they lock themselves in and explore the Odenbrook Sanitarium to search for evidence of the paranormal. Six entered, five didn’t return, and now John, the lone survivor, must rifle through the footage to clear his name of murder. Employing a combination of hand-held footage, static cameras, and a standard narrative, Paranormal Incident is an abject mess of a film that truly fails to be scary, let alone anything resembling a coherent film.
As John watches the footage to help prove his innocence, we see the method to their madness: numerous handheld cameras supplemented with security cams placed throughout the asylum to capture every nook and cranny. While this type of setup has the potential for being frightening, the film is presented in a way guaranteed to confuse the viewer, jumping haphazardly from shaky hand-held footage to surveillance footage as the six explorers run and scream and get thrown about by unseen entities. Deaths are given little credence, with most happening either off camera or too obscured by the camera’s movement, while several are relegated to extreme closeups of the victim’s face screaming before cutting to black. Genuine opportunities to create actual scares are few and far between, due in part to the slow pacing, poor editing, and a complete lack of real context. Scenes from later in the film are spliced in, presumably to give the viewer a taste of what’s to come. It’s not effective, just annoying.
Not content with just making a scary movie – found footage need not have the benefit of character arcs to build suspense – writer/director Matthew Bolton attempted to coat it in a thin soap opera veneer. Relationship turmoil among several of the characters does little to move along the already thin story, instead doing nothing more than making you hate the characters more than you already would. No one cares if the dumb jock is cheating on his girlfriend or if the lone survivor was in love with one of his friends. It doesn’t add to the suspense, and when the first half of your film is comprised of pretty people talking to the camera about their expectations, you better hit the audience fast and hard with the scares. Slow pacing is the ultimate folly of found footage. Well, that and a soundtrack.
Found footage should not have a soundtrack. It doesn’t fit with the conceit of the film, even when the footage is presented not for the sake of the audience, but for the characters in the film. Unless it’s established that someone took the hours and hours and footage, condensed it down into something resembling a story, and scored it, then under no circumstances should found footage have a score. But I digress.
With the narrative portion of the film, John watches the footage for the first time as he and the investigator attempt to determine what really happened that night. It’s irrelevant and serves as nothing more than a means of injecting a little originality into what some call a played out conceit. The irony is that it detracts from the film, showcasing its low budget and injecting a twist that almost completely lacks context. In the end it’s too little too late in a slow, plodding film seemingly comprised of scenes stitched together from the cutting room floor.
1/2 out of 5