Two Stars: ACTIVITY Tries Too Hard With Too Little Focus
Nov 30, 2012
The business of reviewing films can be grim. At times, those of us who do it are provided freebies of mainstream releases, but far more often we’re given these smaller pictures – much less impressive and certainly produced on a limited budget – that audiences rarely (if ever) even consider … that is unless they can find someone else who’s given it a chance and found it worthwhile. What the challenge is to find something about that hunk of coal that could’ve turned it into a diamond so long as the proper time, effort, and consideration were provided. To its credit, SUPERNATURAL ACTIVITY is one such movie. To its detriment, it’s a little too late for the constructive criticism to do much good.
(Note: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who wants a review completely unspoiled, then skip down to the last two paragraphs. Otherwise, if you’re looking for some modest detail, read on.)
The documentary crew for the TV reality program ‘Supernatural Activity’ is looking for material to shoot for its season finale. When a small-town legend regarding sightings of the mythical Smallsquatch comes to the attention of Damon Dealer (Andrew Pozza), he assembles his faithful crew: Blair (Libby Bisanz), his girlfriend; Brock (Donny Boaz), his co-host and Matthew McConaughey wannabe; Doug (Devin Bonnee), his cameraman; and Pepper (Joey Oglesby), his ‘tech’ and resident weapons expert. Together, they head for Hickville, where they uncover much more than they ever bargained for!
Other reviewers may feel differently, but there was a respectably wholesome charm mystically floating somewhere near the heart of ACTIVITY. Some of the gags work extremely well and, no doubt, probably served as scriptwriter Pozza’s inspiration in crafting the story. For example, Damon Dealer is clearly intended to be a self-absorbed ‘Chris Angel’ knock-off, and Pozza (as the star) does a solid job embodying his lead with the right balance of aloofness and narcissism. Also, the rest of his crew bring their own dizzying enthusiasm to their respective roles – Brock is so equally self-involved that he unintentionally mashes up inspirational quotes he’s co-opted from others; Blair wants to use her boyfriend’s TV program to explore her own pet projects; Pepper uses the Bible to qualify his stereotypical Southern racism and general cluelessness; and Doug can’t suppress his crush on Blair long enough to stop filming her boobs.
Furthermore, Pozza’s principle focus – satirizing the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise of films – gets the lion’s share of the screen time, and it’s largely successful. For example, the blue-tinted night-time recording sequence gets winning treatment as the running gag of spousal abuse for the haunted couple (played with middling effectiveness by Tim Ogletree and Liz Waters) gets ratcheted up a few notches with some unexpected butt grabs and a suffocation gimmick. There’s more – and that sequence alone is definitely the high point of the film for me – but I won’t spoil all of it in case you’re inclined to pick this one up. Also, the truth behind the rock piles and Damon’s séance-inspired gibberish gets honorable mention.
Disappointingly, it’s the focus on the rest of the film that suffers, serving as the Achilles’ Heel to the farce.
Instead of maintaining a consistent ‘documentary within a documentary’ format, the rest of ACTIVITY is captured as a traditional film. I could be wrong, but I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the jokes would’ve played better (and consequently much funnier) if they had been captured in the same documentarian style. I found the constant jumping in and out of the mockumentary to the traditional feature more than a bit off-putting. It can be worked properly – one need only look at the sci-fi gem DISTRICT 9 as proof – but it’s a hard line to walk when you’re dealing with comedy.
Furthermore, the latter half of the film is plagued by the fact that the script veers off into mocking more found footage horror films. This works when audiences have seen the films in reference, and, based entirely on box office numbers, I’m not so sure that was as good an idea as it probably seemed at the time. The conclusion works hard – much too hard – and tying all of the nonsense together, but the beauty of the farce is that not all of it HAS to make perfect sense. Comedy – an acquired taste – can be broad enough to swipe at an entire genre, but parody – a subset of comedy – works best when there’s a stronger narrative focus.
But, at the end of the day, what do I know? I only watch films. As it is, ACTIVITY delivered a handful of laughs. I think it could’ve done more – much more – had the ‘barbs’ been under tighter control. Hopefully, this crew can take the lessons they learned from this picture and channel them into the next, as other comedy ensembles have done. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they do so and produce a stronger picture.
SUPERNATURAL ACTIVITY is produced by Aristar Entertainment Group. DVD distribution is being handled by Well Go USA Entertainment. As for the technical specs, the film looks and sounds fairly solid, though there are a few jokes that fall flat because of poor miking. (How do I know? I back it up, turned up the sound, and heard the punchline. Never – and I mean NEVER – make the audience work to understand a joke.) As is customary with many small releases, there are no special features to speak of, except for the theatrical trailer.
MODESTLY RECOMMENDED so long as you’re not expecting much. There are a few sparks of legitimate inspiration in SUPERNATURAL ACTIVITY. Yes, they’re too few and too far between, an all too common side effect of vanity-style projects. Had the producers, writer, and director actually put their heads together to flesh out some direction on the story – weeding out the bad jokes, centering the narrative around a single theme – the result may’ve been a re-watchable cult comedy … not a bad aspiration. However, as it is, half of the picture is probably funny for ten years; unfortunately, ten-year-olds probably will not have seen the movies that the other half of the material pokes fun at.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA Entertainment provided me with a DVD screener of SUPERNATURAL ACTIVITY for the expressed purposes of completing this review.