Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Haunted House

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. I am just sharing my opinions and perspective. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 1-5. 1, of course, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! And maybe it's time we admit that parodies should no longer be made.

A Haunted House – 2 out of 5

The parody is a lost art form. While it still exists, it is no longer the witty rib on the subject material it was when films like The Naked Gun, Airplane and even the first Scary Movie came out. Instead, the parody has become a vicious rape of the subject material with its jokes being nothing much beyond a fart, dick or gay joke. With movies like the later Scary Movie films or things like Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans and all the other “Fill in the Blank” Movies, parodies have become a rambling collection of squeezed in satires and pop culture references that barely qualifies as jokes. There’s no wit or bite to them, they are just “let’s make this look like the subject we are lampooning, throw in a Kardashian reference and then a fart sound.”

Facebook Profile Pics...the Movie!

A Haunted House is basically an unofficial Scary Movie sequel/spin-off that parodies the “found footage” genre—a genre that is already a joke and readily parodies itself by making each and every one of the films the same over and over again. The film sees Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) and his girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins) move in together in a house that is basically an amalgam of the first two houses in the Paranormal Activity franchise. After Kisha suspects some paranormal presences in the home, Malcolm invites a security man (David Koechner) to install cameras and a psychic (Nick Swardson) to “read” the house. Pretty soon the hauntings start to get more frequent and violent until the demon ultimately possesses Kisha. And somewhere during this, I guess there are some jokes and gags.

This film feels less like a parody of the Paranormal Activity films during much of its running length and more like a potential blaxploitation spin-off of the series (drink every time this movie reminds you that checking out what's in the dark room or finding where the scary noise came from is something "white folks" do...and yet, even knowing this, they still do it). For nearly the first half-hour of the film, the movie is set-up just like every other PA movie; with Malcolm getting a camera and becoming increasingly (and very unhealthily) obsessed with filming every aspect of their daily lives until the first moments of the haunting start--and then he gets MORE cameras! There might have been some jokes in the form of Wayans hamming it up for the camera but, for the most part, these sequences were just as inane and as boring as the opening to any typical “found footage” film.

Actually, I can't tell if this is an improvement to the "found footage"
genre or not.

Once the jokes and the “humor” actually starts, I found I was just as silent and as stoic as I was during the first part of the film. All the jokes come from either bottom of the barrel fart and dick jokes, parodies of sequences from the “found footage” films they are mocking that are just shoe-horned into the story and, when they don’t feel completely out of place, are just painfully unfunny, and argument-style banter between characters that are overflowing with pop culture metaphors and stereotypes that are more annoying than humorous. In fact, most of the film is taking references, stereotypes and parody sequences and beating them over and over again till they are no longer recognizable as a potentially comedic scene and just become grating and hard to sit through.

Okay, at this point they are just remaking the damn thing.

Really, everything about this is predictable and cliché with no real breaths of fresh air placed in it. Occasionally, I found myself laughing but, in all honesty, I laughed only twice at something Marlon Wayans did and the rest of the time I was just quiet (kinda like how I am during an average "found footage" film; although this one at least didn't put me to sleep)…but at least it wasn’t so bad that I was groaning. Actually, I lied; when Nick Swardson appears and plays the closeted psychic Chip who awkwardly puts the moves on Malcolm I did find myself groaning in pain. We all know Swardson’s track record with comedy (for those of you who watched Bucky Larson and lived, you know the horrors all too well) and his inclusion in this movie felt like the producers were intentionally trying to lower the bar.

Nick Swardson is always available to make your film exponentially worse.

For as bad and horrifically unfunny as this film was, there were actually some good things going on here that warranted my score of 2 out of 5. I already mentioned the film did make me laugh twice—and I don’t mean chuckle, I mean it actually made me let out of really hearty laugh, so that was surprising to me. Also, there are times in the film where Marlon Wayans plays a fantastic straight man to some zany action going on around him (the use of zany being very, VERY gratuitous there). There are small moments where he shows he can do some serious acting and probably could have been a breeding ground for some richly hilarious scenes—the only problem was he was playing a straight man in scenes that had no comedy pushing back at him or trying to work with him.

This movie does, however, provide a great argument on why "found footage"
films need to be killed once and for all.

There are plenty of scenes that involve Wayans having to be the only man in the room with common sense as he must deal with the rants of raving lunatics around him in the form of Koechner's and Swardson’s characters, as well as a few scenes with a preacher character played by Cedric the Entertainer, and there’s the potential for humor in these scenes but Marlon's straight-laced (about as straight-laced as it can get in this one) performance is just lost in a string of nonsense from those around him and performances that reek of the scenery that Koechner, Swardson and Cedric just chewed on.

"Smell my breath...does it smell like scenery?"

Wayans shows that he really is the only one trying with his acting. Even with the times he hams it up, he has at least one scene going on parallel to that where he shows that he is giving some effort and is not just in the film to make bad slapstick. The rest of the cast, however, doesn’t really come off like they even remotely care. Instead, they look like they were just goofing around on set, trying to amuse each other, and the director just said, “Cut, we’ll work with that.” Most of the scenes played out like dress rehearsals and not actual takes.  This came to be a little bit of a downer since there are some talented folks in the film.

David Koechner is a actor I have enjoyed in many projects and this movie also has Andrew Daly (a very funny man) and each man just looks like he’s wasted—not drunk, mind you (although, alcohol may explain why a lot of the movie was left unaltered or why so much of it has jokes missing in its scenes) but wasted in the fact they weren't utilized the way they should have been. However, everyone pales in comparison with the really, truly, immensely awful performance of Essence Atkins.

"Well, I am a funny guy but sure, Mr. Director, I can give the whole 'not trying'
thing a go!"

Atkins is just hard to watch. She pretty much overacts every scene she’s in to the point it’s like watching a person parody the parody that they are performing in. If she wasn’t so unnatural in her delivery, one could probably make the argument that she’s quite brilliant in her Inception-y style performance but, in reality, she’s just not a good actress. Her weak performances ends up hurting the already poorly conceived humor of the film as Wayans is forced to carry Atkins in these scenes in order to try and pull out even the most minute speck of comedy from her “I’m trying too hard” delivery.

Shown:  A false belief of comedic acting.

Shockingly, however, I was really impressed with the film's effects. With the exception of a scene that involved Malcolm and Kisha smoking weed with the demon (which, I’m pretty sure, has literally been in every Scary Movie film ever in one form or another), the haunting sequences look really good and are about on par with anything seen in the Activity films. However, this doesn’t make the film funnier…it only makes it look more like a spin-off of the franchise.

It could have been could have been a Tyler Perry movie...
or Scary Movie 5...or Tyler Perry presents Scary Movie 5 starring Tyler Perry
as everybody in the freaking movie.

A Haunted House is, plain and simply, not funny. The two amusing moments it did present to me did nothing to allow the classification of this movie as a comedy or even a well-thought out parody/satire. The film feels less like a comedy and more like a collection of YouTube videos of people using their camera phones to make poorly feathered out Paranormal Activity send ups. This movie is proof that the art of the parody is not an easy one and just doing some poop jokes in a scene that looks like the scene from the movie you are mocking doesn’t constitute a parody. Like I stated earlier, this movie feels less like a satire and more like an attempt to make another film to add to the Paranormal Activity franchise…but, in their defense, they were able to successfully make as many scares as the PA franchise did; exactly none.

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