Hereafter & Paranormal Activity 2: A pair of ghostly films for Halloween
Hereafter and Paranormal Activity go beyond the Earthly veil
Two Films Dealing with the spirit-world
Clint Eastwood’s films have generally dealt with the subject of death in one way or another. Movies like Unforgiven presented an eye-for-an-eye philosophy of death as the appropriate justice for killers. Mystic River was about the effects of a murder on the people left behind. Million Dollar Baby touched on the subject of Euthanasia. Gran Torino showed us a man facing his own mortality. Now, Eastwood gives us a look at death from the other side.
Clint Eastwood’s previous films have always been grounded in a grim reality. He’s never delved into sci-fi or horror before as a director. Eastwood is a master at capturing the intense emotions people deal with during very real crisis situations. Hereafter is a major departure from the director’s earlier oeuvre. Perhaps now that he’s reached 80, he’s become more contemplative about what survives beyond death than by what precedes it.
The film never gives a clear description of an afterlife, nor does it ever say for certain that there is a heaven or hell. The story seems to indicate that thoughts and memories still exist beyond the death of the body but we get no visual images, such as in films like Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones.
The story is split into three separate plots, all of which study how death and a belief in the afterlife alter the lives of unrelated people. One plot concerns former professional psychic George Lonegan (Matt Damon), who in years past had achieved a level of fame by helping people contact their diseased loved ones. George quit his vocation because “living constantly with death is no life at all.” He still retains his gift--which he calls “a curse”--but he hides it from the world, despite pleas from his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) to return to his glory days, so Billy can ride his coattails to success and wealth.
There is a touching subplot about George becoming attracted to a woman from his cooking class. Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard, who gives the best performance in the film) is a sweet, vulnerable girl who takes a liking to George but their blossoming relationship changes when she learns about his unique gifts.
The second plot revolves around French TV newswoman Marie LeLay (Cecile de France) who is a Tsunami survivor. She has a brief After-Death experience where she sees images of loved ones and gets a sense of peace. After being miraculously revived, she becomes obsessed with finding out what lurks beyond the veil of this mortal coil. It begins to affect her job and her relationship.
The final plotline follows young Marcus (George McLaren) who is traumatized after the sudden, tragic death of his twin brother Jason (Frankie McLaren). Since Marcus has no father and his mother has been sent to rehab for her alcoholism, Marcus is put into foster care. He wanders through the next year like a zombie, always wearing his late brother’s cap, and researching psychics on the net, hoping to find a way to communicate with Jason.
The three plots come together at the end in a highly improbable coincidence. The trick Eastwood faces here is to delver some sort of resolution to each of our three leading characters, without giving any concrete answers about the right or wrong of their beliefs in the afterlife. The story is more about the need for answers than what the answer actually is.
The movie adds in some tragic, real-life events, such as the 2004 Tsunami and the London bombings of the buses and trains. Events like these remind us how fragile our lives are and make some of us desperate to know that there may be a future beyond the grave. George, so tired of living with dead, represents the idea that while we’re here, our main goal should be to care for each other and forget about thoughts of death for as long as we can.
Paranormal Activity 2:
Paranormal Activity 2 manages the tricky feat of being both a prequel and a sequel. Much of the movie takes place before the supernatural occurrences in the popular 2007 thriller Paranormal Activity, but part of it takes place after. This film both sets up the original and resolves it at the same time. It’s not as scary as the first film but it is an interesting companion piece.
On a cost-to-profit basis, the first Paranormal Activity is one of the most successful films of all time. It used the same amateur documentary style that started with The Blair Witch Project and has been utilized in numerous horror films since then, including Cloverfield. The second film in the Paranormal franchise once again uses this same technique to give the film a sense of realism. Like most other recent films made with a hand-held video cameras, this one claims to be composed of footage discovered after tragic “real” events.
The Paranormal franchise is clever because the filmmakers realize that what you don’t see if often scarier than having things leap out at you. The unseen monster under the bed holds more dread than the one chasing people down the street. Alfred Hitchcock became a master of the thriller due to his ability to build up suspense over an extended period. The Paranormal films follow that same wisdom. They make you wait; allowing your anticipation to do the work, rather than having resorting to lots and lots of sudden “Boo!” moments.
The film starts with a family—Parents Daniel and Kathie, and teen daughter Allie—bringing newborn baby Hunter home from the hospital. After some nice scenes of domestic bliss, and an appearance by Kathie’s sister Katie (Katie Featherston, star of the original film, playing the same character), we cut to approximately a year later, when the family is upset about what appears to be a break-in. Strangely, although the place has been ransacked, nothing is missing. Dad responds by setting up a series of security camera all around the house to monitor everything. The rest of the film is shot mostly from the point-of-view of the security cameras, which gives it an odd look, because almost every scene is filmed from 10 feet above the actors.
Soon, it becomes apparent to Kathie that there is something otherworldly going on. In the first film, her sister Katie mentioned that she’d been plagued by supernatural occurrences since she was eight years old. Kathie experienced this as well, so she’s more familiar with spooks than her disbelieving husband. No one else believes that there is a demon in the house, except the Spanish maid, because Spanish maids obviously know much more about this stuff than the rest of us. Her rituals hold the demon at bay until Dad fires the maid for burning incense in the house, fearing it is harmful to baby Hunter.
As you might expect, things start to escalate. Baby Hunter’s wails of fear are a hallmark to each incident, since babies obviously know more about this stuff than the rest of us. The family dog, Allie, growls and barks, seemingly at nothing, but dogs know more about this stuff than the rest of us do. Daughter Allie is converted to a believer after a spooky evening of babysitting Hunter. Dad Daniel, however, remains a skeptic. While Allie does online research to learn about demons, Kathie tries to talk to her sister Katie about all this, but sis warns that paying attention to the demon and fearing it makes it more powerful. (A mistake made in the first film) Kathie tries to ignore the invisible menace but that becomes impossible when it becomes more aggressive.
One issue some people might have with this film is that it gives a motive to the demon’s actions. There is an unnecessary back-story, not touched upon in the original, which explains why the demon has haunted four generations of Kathie and Katie’s family. This is meant to connect the two films but ultimately, it makes the demon less mysterious and therefore less frightening. It was more frightening to think of it as something randomly terrorizing Katie in the first film, rather than having a specific reason to pick on this family.
Using the baby-in-jeopardy formula helps increase the tension level because people always have an instinctive, visceral reaction to a small child in peril. To add to the emotional sting, we have a dog-in-danger, too. Despite these extra layers, this film is never quite as scary as the first one. Some scenes are repeated from the original and Kathie never quite arouses our sympathies the way Katie did in the first film. Allie is the best character and makes the film far more interesting than it would have been without her.
Paranormal Activity 2 is a fairly scary film. There are only one or two actual jump-out-of-your seat moments but the film works well in building an atmosphere of suspense. It never quite delivers all the scares it promises but there is enough creepiness here to satisfy horror fans.