Charlie Brown
Saw VI
: “I got a rock”

I’ve been getting a jump start on a few of the films playing AFI Fest which kicks off on Friday so I didn’t make it to any new releases this weekend. Stay tuned for some thoughts on Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the Cannes hits Fish Tank and Police, Adjective, Argentina’s submission for the Foreign Language Oscar The Secret in Their Eyes plus of course whatever else I manage to catch at the festival itself.

Meanwhile, there were a couple of interesting developments at the weekend box office. Despite being in nearly 1,100 fewer theaters, Paranormal Activity held its Friday edge and clobbered Saw VI, raking in an estimated $22 million vs. $14.8 million. The weekend pushes Paranormal over $62 million while netting Saw less than half of what each of the last four installments have debuted with. It’s a steep drop off for a franchise that has shown eroding audience interest over the last few years. Though its production budget estimated at $11 million is roughly a thousand times Paranormal Activity, it’s still very cheap by movie standards. Saw VI will make money and speculation about the franchise’s demise is premature.

Still, it has to be a little disconcerting to Lionsgate which has been able to use the Saw films to reliably print money over the years. This time however, they didn’t do anything to set the new film apart from the other five. There was no compelling reason to see it right away and it couldn’t stand up to competition from a highly buzzed Halloween alternative. Watch now as the other studios comb the landscape looking for another challenger for next Halloween while Lionsgate regroups and tries to figure out how to breathe new life into their moneymaker. UPDATE: It should come as no surprise to anyone that the bean counters are already salivating over a possible sequel to Paranormal Activity.

The other big story is Amelia. I’ll avoid making the easy headline jokes about the failure of $40 million film to find an audience. Suffice it to say they’re numerous. With a dismal $4 million from 818 theaters, it couldn’t even crack the top 10 for the weekend and a film that was once an intriguing Oscar prospect is now a footnote.

In other box office news, word got out that Where the Wild Things Are wasn’t really a family movie and it fell off nearly 56% from last weekend. It’s a shame that one of the better movies of the year will struggle to make its money back, but it’s doing better than last year’s Speed Racer, another expensive Warner Bros. film that looked like it was for families yet really wasn’t.

Also, Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist earned a solid though unspectacular average of $12,000 per theater in 6 locations. It’s a film likely to do the best in the largest markets so it’s probably all downhill from here. Hoping to capitalize on the controversy the film stirred up at assorted film festivals, IFC tried to turn it into something of a horror cult hit, but that strategy appears not to have panned out. Love it or hate it, the film never really had a chance to appeal to more than a niche audience so IFC should probably be pleased with how it did.

That’s enough talk about what other people saw this weekend. What about you?

18 Responses to “Watercooler: ‘Paranormal’ sizzles, ‘Saw’ fizzles”

  1. Haha, I saw no films, nothing to contribute, but that photo’s pretty darned funny. I think the sheet should be blood spattered, though.

    Looking forward to hearing what you thought of all these screenings. Must be neat to be a film blogger who gets invites to things like that. :)

  2. They’ll soon start cranking these Saw sequels out for the straight-to-DVD market, like the American Pie movies. Make ’em cheap for the hardcore fans and make a profit. I’m just surprised it took so long for the general public to get tired of this shit.

  3. Enjoyed Paranormal Activity but it wasn’t the home run I was hoping it might turn out to be. However, for a film made on a tiny, miniscule budget with no experienced professionals involved it did what it set out to fairly well. Last night, as I went to bed well after my girl was asleep in a very dark, very quiet house I got a bit unnerved. Managed to eventually go to sleep, but I did have to spend about 30 minutes talking myself down from letting my imagination get the best of me.

    Now that’s quality horror for you.

  4. I finally went out with Lucille over the weekend, as we had tickets that were purchased weeks in advance. We went to a Saturday afternoon staging of Frank Galati’s The Grapes of Wrath, based on Steinbeck’s masterpiece, by the New Jersey Shakespeare Society in Madison, New Jersey. The show was passable, but was rather dull, and conventionally performed.

    I saw Lars Von Trier’s Anti-Christ on Saturday with Lucille and Broadway Bob, and I must admit I was in no state of mind to endure what was probably the bleakest and most disturbing film I have ever seen in my life. But I’m inclined to say that it’s still some kind of a masterpiece.

    Anti-Christ **** 1/2 (Saturday night; IFC Film Center)

  5. Sam, with all that’s going on with you I’m stunned you sat through Antichrist and even more that you loved it.

    Amazing.

    Paranormal Activity. I keep intending to see it and then something comes up. Even if it doesn’t toss my salad, if it keeps me awake for an extra 30 minutes unwinding before bed as it did with Joel, that’s pretty quality horror in my book.

    Frank, you should run a studio. On the other hand, part of the fun of those movies has to be seeing it with a pack of like minded fans who are into it and the DVD treatment just wouldn’t be the same.

  6. I caved on Paranormal Activity and just read about it all online. I have to say, the ending sounds just as disappointing as everyone has described, but then again I suppose this movie is about the journey, not the destination.

    I’m also shocked about Sam’s experience.

    Didn’t see any new releases yet again, but as part of a local festival did check out Ink, Colin, and Etienne!.

    Ink is a broody sci-fi thriller shot for $250k that has drawn comparisons to Donnie Darko and The Matrix – by the filmmakers themselves, mind you. It’s not bad and is impressively shot, but it’s about 20 minutes too long and just didn’t connect with me emotionally at all. Then again neither did Pan’s Labyrinth, of which I was also reminded while watching Ink.

    Colin is that no-budget zombie hit from the UK. It’s certainly impressive from a production value standpoint, but the cinematography is occasionally unwatchable and the story seems to plod as much as the zombies on screen. Have to admit I left with probably two minutes left to see…

    Etienne!, a movie about a guy and his hamster, which should tell you about all you need to know about my movie tastes. But Etienne! is actually much more about a guy than his hamster; it’s a little like Napoleon Dynamite but it knows that and does enough to distance itself from it. I really like it.

    I have a few more screeners to watch for this festival and am entering one of my busiest work periods of the year, so my movie-going and discussing will unfortunately remain sparse for the next stretch.

  7. Paranormal Activity has a few effective thrills–especially the ending–but I was fairly lukewarm to it. I admire the filmmakers for managing to make a so-so film off a minuscule budget and turn it into a mainstream hit. But I could have/should have waited for the DVD.

    Also saw Zombieland, which was great. Not a fan of the roadtrip formula, but what can I say, it worked. And the cameo, which I somehow managed to avoid spoiling for myself, brought a smile to my face.

  8. I thought the ending of Paranormal Activity was alright, WJ (and no, I’m not going to spoil it), but it didn’t pay off the build-up for me as much as I would have liked and I really didn’t like the closing title card.

    However, the movie plays off it’s main motif very, very well in my opinion. It’s not really anything new to let a static shot hang there to build tension in a ghost story, with an unsettling element entering into it at some point, but PA takes this a step farther and finds some effective ways to play off the power of recorded video. I think there’s a specific effect to the framing of that repeated shot that might be lost on the small screen.

    And Daniel, I figured out the entire film very early on and knew exactly what to expect, but PA still had me on edge regardless.

    That’s all I will say, but

  9. Maybe it’s good my PA enthusiasm is being tempered a little bit. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more.

    Daniel, I was intrigued by Colin back in July when I ran a trailer for it just because it literally cost $75. I’ll bet some American distributor snaps it up since they’re all thinking about microbudgeted horror in the wake of Paranomormal Activity. Maybe it already has. I know it’s getting a UK release…or it did.

  10. Yeah I really wouldn’t have known anything about Colin had you not highlighted back then. It seems like a cool idea in theory (big budget thrills without the budget), but I somehow still wasn’t prepared for how raw (as in unpolished) the whole thing was. Kind of a you-get-what-you-pay-for situation, and when you’re paying $75 there’s going to be something lacking, no matter what. But I sound like I’m criticizing it and that’s not fair, they did for $75 what I probably couldn’t do for $75,000.

    Anyway I’m sure you’re right that this is being primed for a U.S. release because of PA’s success, at least online or DVD, if not theatrically. If it also succeeds I think it will mark a watershed moment for movies. We’ll start to see hundreds of these things all trying to get distribution and easy paychecks. Or maybe that’s already happening.

  11. It’s probably fair to admire the dude’s inventiveness and gumption even if the end product doesn’t quite deliver in the entertainment department.

  12. I did not like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, but I’m glad it beat SAW VI, and hope this is the beginning of the end of the franchise. Old school, “less is more” horror beats torture porn any day.

    The haunting scenes of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY are effective, but the rest of the film is a complete drag, and the two characters are vapid and uninteresting. She’s a whiny bitch and he’s a stupid douche. Hated them both and was pretty much bored with the whole thing. Every time they would open their mouth I would just sit and impatiently wait for the next haunting scene.

  13. I thought Katie was pretty darn likable considering her situation. I know a lot of people who whine a hell of a lot more about a hell of a lot less. I felt for her, and I think its that empathy that makes the picture’s final moments so hard to shake.

    Don’t get the complaints over the ending either. The set-up lends itself to two basic outcomes, and those who know the genre know there’s only one real outcome, and that’s the one they chose.

    To me, complaints about the actors and certain scenes are after the fact nitpicks. The picture has a primal force that few movies muster, it’s amateurish but the picture uses that to its brutal advantage.

  14. I didn’t care for the male lead much but I thought he was believable enough and I thought the female lead was pretty good. Both actors are somewhat novice, but they had an authenticity to them that felt a little like watchable reality TV.

    They definitely weren’t the human blow-up doll variety douchebags of Cloverfield, one of the only films I’ve ever seen where I was hoping for the entire cast to die fairly painful deaths about 10 minutes in. Awful acting and cast.

    Chuck, tried to post a comment to your review yesterday but it wouldn’t allow me to. Let me commend your review here and comment that I agreed with your take.

  15. If it’s a primal force, it’s the most boring primal force ever. Give me BLAIR WITCH or CLOVERFIELD anyday.

  16. I agree with you about the ending, Chuck. It’s thoroughly predictable, but I can’t think of a better way to end the movie. (*spoiler*) And, besides, the douche bag boyfriend got what he deserved…

  17. I can’t really comment on the ending without giving it all away Chuck, but I just felt underwhelmed by it. However, I thought there was a lot to like about it. Let me put it this way, I was a little disappointed in the last 3 seconds of the ending and the title card. That’s all I’ll say.

    I’d have to disagree that Paranormal Activity was boring, Matt. I didn’t find it boring or tedious, but I was just frustrated that the movie has a specific intent and the characters don’t seem to deviate much from the inevitability of that premise, but as Chuck said it’s not necessarily unexpected.

    However, since you brought it up of the three I found Blair Witch the most tedious to watch and Cloverfield by far the most ridiculously convoluted. I think both these previous films have their strengths but I don’t think either is exceptionally better than Paranormal Activity. I’d also have to applaud all three for not pulling their punches with the audience.

    We’ll just have to disagree on what constitutes good horror, I suppose.

  18. I don’t have a dog in this fight because I haven’t seen Paranormal and I gave Cloverfield a begrudging pass, but everything Matthew says about the characters in PA apply to Cloverfield for me times about 1000. Cloverfield had the advantage of a monster running around wrecking stuff and PA appears to be more modest in its thrills, but god I hated those Cloverfield characters. It would’ve been a good movie if the monster had stepped on the heads of all the leads as soon as it came ashore in Manhattan.

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