A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Movie Review/Game Ideas: Paranormal Activity

WARNING WARNING! Spoilers ahead. It is recommended you either watch the movie first, or don't care about having the whole thing spoiled. Last chance to back out jerky!


(Edited at 11PM November 3rd with some direct gaming ideas.)

I saw the movie earlier today, without knowing anything other than that it was a horror film, its name, and it was made on the cheap. I hadn't seen any reviews or previews or anything. (I got rid of everything but Basic Cable a few months back which I don't actually watch anyhow.)

Its a movie that builds dread and you have to at least have a suspension of disbelief about it all.

The basic plot and synopsis
Our story involves a young twentysomething couple, Katie and Micah. Katie is a graduate student working on becoming a teacher while Micah is a day trader apparently doing really well as they have a very nice house in San Diego California. Katie has been having weird occurrences happen to her and Micah buys a very expensive camera and audio setup to try to get it all on tape. Come to find out Katie has been harassed by a mostly unseen entity since she was a child, and believes it to have caused her childhood home to have been destroyed.

The film is done from the viewpoint of this camera, ala "Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" two movies I really like.

Micah's filming causes additional friction to the couple, and an early discussion with a psychic reveals it is most likely a demon not a ghost, and that it is actively following Katie. He recommends consulting a Demonologist, and Micah's early skepticism and failure to heed the psychic's warnings that it feeds off negative energy merely antagonizes the entity whose actions amp up more and more through their 3 week ordeal.

Later on as they are low on sleep and their nerves continue to fray more and more they make even more mistakes even as the evidence mounts. Now unable to get a hold of the Demonlogist they were recommended the demon apparently possesses Katie, kills Micah, then looks at and attacks the camera facefirst.

Now on to my thoughts about the movie and some thoughts about some folks' comments on the movie.
Yeah one of our two leads did some dumb things. Early on because he like most of us would be a skeptic. Later on he wanted to handle it MAN STYLE. By the time he realized the threat it was too late and he was so sleep and emotionally drained he did idiotic things.

You have to empathize with the characters and actually care about them. If you go all "its just a movie blah!" of course you won't like it. If you need special effects and to see everything you won't like it either. I liked Blair Witch and Cloverfield and I like this sort of movie. (I am a huge fan of the original Dracula novel too, so I sort of like this "from the character's point of view" thing.)

Plus the style is raw and leaves you drained and empty. Even with this apparently derided ending you are left MESSED UP by the experience. And I actually like the demon coming up and attacking the camera. Its the demon's way of saying "Hello mortals. You cannot stop me. I will invade you in your homes. I cannot be contained, controlled, or reasoned with. I have all the power. And I have a body. I am coming. For you."

And that's chilling. Hell, I even yelled out "Word that rhymes with TRUCK!" even though I knew what was coming up next. It was a mostly sparse audience, but 655 PM on a Connecticut November Monday isn't going to be a packed house, especially with the amount of showings it was getting. (And the theater staff commenting most of their business this day was for the movie.)

If I was a character in the film I certainly would have done things differently, but even as a skeptic on the supernatural, I am not a disbeliever either. I know enough to know I don't know enough. Plus I would be (outside of being doomed to die via possessed lady) lucky to have a lot of cash for a nice house and an attractive lady. How some of people can not find her attractive (and even call her fat!) is beyond me. She could be any woman you meet in the real world.

So I really liked it but can understand some people would not like it. Folks who need constant action or who nitpick EVERY stupid thing characters do in movies or folks who only want REALISTIC films. (I knew a pit boss at the casino I worked at who was proud to have never seen Star Wars as he wanted "reality" in his entertainment. I wonder if he realized he worked in an industry based around a complete LACK of reality..)

But to each their own. Nobody is gonna like everything. Hell, each of us should realize everything we adore and hold dear is utterly despised by someone else out there.

Why some folks seem to have spent the last 2 weeks posting about how much they hate the movie leaves me baffled though.

Most of the audience I was with liked it, though a few didn't. A couple folks were either coughing, laughing, or shrieking around the 3/4ths mark of the film but I just ignored it.

The two characters are well acted and you generally feel bad for their plight and wish you could help them and warn them of some of their more foolish actions. (A Quija board? Yeah. Dumb move there. I am not sure I believe in the supernatural, but I know well enough that YOU. DO. NOT. USE. A. QUIJA. BOARD. EVER.) The practical special effects were all well done and if there were any CGI effects I really could not tell, though some of them had to be given the 15,000 dollar budget I have heard the film cost.

But have you ever got that feeling in your eyes when the supernatural is discussed or you read a tale about the spectral unknown? Where you begin to tear up a little around the edges, and you want to leave all the lights on, you know.. "Just in case"?

This movie did that for me. if you like films with a sense of dread and not big showy special effects productions, I highly recommend this movie.

I do kinda want to run a Call of Cthulhu game as a sequel to this though. It leaves with a nice hook. (Or New World of Darkness Mortals. The trail could lead to a.. special place. A Silent Hill perhaps? :pyramidhead:

(Yeah that's a cheesy idea but it could work if done right. And the right player group.)

What really did happen to Katie? Is she still possessed? Where has she gone? Has the demon altered her, slowly warping her flesh into a proper host for a demon? Is her soul still within her body? Did she have to watch her boyfriend being murdered by her, powerless to do anything? Did she not know, but was then shown its handiwork afterwards? What is the demon doing NOW? Is it going to possess others? Is it bridging a gateway to bring other demons across? Could Katie just be a latent psychic whose powers she has no control over? What if for brief instances she can retake control of her body?

An entire adventure or campaign could be created answering those questions above. And the film itself is a great example of setting a proper mood for a horror game. It starts off basically normal, with even some jokes. Then the night comes. Things get worse and worse each night. Sanity frays causing foolish actions to be taken. The feeling of helplessness and dread descends upon you. Then, a brief instance of terror with most left to your imagination. And it ends. You have no answers, no denouement. In fact, you have more questions than answers.

And you know, it does not care about locked doors. It will visit you. In your sleep. Just because. And it feeds off your suffering and pain. And you cannot stop it. If it wants you, it will have you. And it can wait.

Pleasant dreams.

(Some game ideas below.. if you can sleep after seeing it. I must say I had.. difficulties in sleeping. I wasn't scared but the movie wouldn't leave my mind, nor that final bit..)

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay/40K Roleplay.

The basic concept would work great in either line. A young couple connected to a semi important merchant or noble has gone missing with a basic log or servoskull readout telling the basics of what happened. If playing a game as the aftermath to the events it will be time to hunt down and purge the demon with cleansing fire and blade. (Some chain powered if its 40K.) In the Warhammer universe the demon is clearly either Tzeentch or Slaanesshi in origin. It either possessed Katie to further its plans, or just because it enjoys feeding on pain and negative emotions, something Slaaneshi demons love.

(As an aside, how come every Warhammer Slaanesh fan merely fixates on the sexual side of things? Slaanesh is about emotion and passion and senses. Not just URF URF SPLUT...)

Now that it has a body, what will it do with it? Perhaps the Tzeentch demon will use her money and minor influence to put plans into motion, perhaps fleeing the planet/region and going where it can cause great harm and nobody will really find out that Katie is missing and wanted for murder. If Slaaneshi, she will probably form dark cults in either universe, seducing other young nobles and bringing them into her dark ways.

The hunt could involve investigations, explorations of tombs or now daemon infested starships, it could have big battles in the deep underhives.

And if you want to use the events in the movie itself directly and change things? Howabout a noble asking the PCs to protect Katie and find out what is haunting her. Perhaps she is a latent psyker? Witch Hunters and Inquisitors will need to be blunted from her as their main answer will be to kill her and let the Emperor/Sigmar sort it all out. Can the PCs save Katie and her macho yet problem escalating fiancee? Or will they just make things worse? Why is she being harassed? Is there a cult behind it? Does Katie's family hide a dark secret?

Similar ideas could be used in many Palladium games, World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu, Legend of the Five Rings, D&D, and even lighter games like Kobolds Ate My Baby! or Ghostbusters.

(Though it would be lighter and funnier in those cases. Perhaps Katie is possessed by Vor who is angry at Micah for being such a doofus and he then decides she could make a fun way of smiting annoying Kobolds. He can send his avatar to do it for them and eat the furry little blighters without having to constantly look at what stupid things they are doing, and have the fun of watching a human devour them live. In Ghostbusters maybe the demon is a bored spirit who was a teacher and just doesn't think Micah is a good fit. Perhaps its less scary and more amusing in its actions. Maybe instead of killing him, the demon just gives him nightly wedgies and messes up his stock trades. (I know if I were a demon haunting a young woman I wouldn't want her with such a yuppie bro type either. Especially when he does stupid things to annoy me directly!))

See? One short movie leads to a ton of inspiration for adventures if not entire campaigns.

The fact its a darn spooky movie just makes it all the better!

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