Tuesday, October 09, 2012

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #4: ParaNorman

This one almost wasn’t on my radar. Or, at the very least, had been relegated to “add to rental queue” status. Peak time cinema tickets being so stupidly pricey that me and Mrs F going to see a film on the big screen is currently pricier than actually buying the damn thing on DVD a few months later or, if it’s in 3D, actually buying the damn thing on DVD and still having change for a bottle of wine, I don’t tend to go to the cinema much nowadays. It has to be something good. Something I really hopped up for. Something that’s an absolute must-see.

I’m still smarting over the money I spent on ‘Prometheus’, and all I can say is ‘Skyfall’ had better be a billion-fold improvement on ‘Quantum of Solace’.

But I digress. Last week, driving home from work, traffic was solid. Having spent half an hour getting nowhere fast, I doubled back and tried another route. Bad move. If anything, the gridlock was even worse. We inched slowly along the boulevard, a sign directing us to the access road to the Showcase multiplex. Mrs F suggested: “Wanna go to the cinema?” We parked up, hoofed in, and asked for a ticket for whatever was showing in the next ten minutes.

Hence: ‘ParaNorman’.

The plot, in brief, concerns Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young kid who’s bullied at school and despaired of by his parents on account of his ability to communicate with the dead, and the thankless duty, passed onto him by his eccentric uncle, of placating an angry spirit who threatens to return from the dead each year on the anniversary of her execution as a witch. A duty he’s unable to complete thanks to the ministrations of snivelling bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the ramifications of which are immediate: the dead rise from their graves and all hell breaks loose.

At an early stage in the proceedings, there’s an extended scene where Norman tries to wrest free a book gripped in the rigor mortis ridden hands of a corpse. Slapstick humour and tombstone humour combine in what is genuinely funny and icky in equal measure. And even as I was laughing, I was acutely aware that a bunch of kids – very small ones – were sitting a few rows behind me.

I thought of those kids (interestingly, they didn’t make much noise during the movie – and that includes laughing) during several John Carpenter references that niftily worked in. Went over their heads, I reckon. And I thought of them again towards the end of the film. Norman is faced with the spirit of the executed witch – she’s an eleven year-old girl. Just a kid, like Norman. A kid cursed with the ability to speak to the dead. Like Norman. And just as Norman is bullied, she was executed. Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell depict the girl’s spirit as literally incandescent with rage. Norman’s attempts to ameliorate her anger make for a tense scene.

‘ParaNorman’ is essentially about the vulnerability of children and the stupidity of adults. Mob mentality and an inability to listen are the hallmarks of virtually all of the adult characters. There’s a telling scene in which the townsfolk set on a group of zombies – in a reversal of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and pretty much every other zombie film you can think of, it ends with the zombies barricaded inside a building and the living clamouring to get in. But these zombies are freighted with guilt and want to make amends rather than terrorizing the living. Again, ‘ParaNorman’ goes into deeper and more poignant territory than I was expecting.

Of course, there’s an honourable tradition of animated films ostensibly aimed at the kiddie market being better and more intelligent than most mainstream adult-centric fare. But ‘ParaNorman’ strikes me as being a little darker, a little more thought-provoking than the norm. It certainly has one of the most put-upon protagonists of any children’s film I’ve seen – poor old Norman gets the shit end of the stick right up until the end when his unwanted gift finally allows him to emerge as the hero of the day. That’s another tradition of animated kiddie fare: the happy ending. In ‘ParaNorman’ it’s hard-earned and all the more welcome as a result.


Bryce Wilson said...

Nicely done Neil. I doubt that there's will be a film to catch me more completely (or pleasantly) by surprise this year. Trailers made me think it'd be a cute winking kids film with a better than average grasp of the genre (the Halloween meets Friday The 13th gag showed up quite a bit).

The last thing I expected was a genuine horror epic that cribbed the visuals for its finale from The Fountain of all places.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I wanted to see this one in theaters but never got around to it, I'm sorry I didn't, it looks great. Looking forward to checking it out on DVD soon, glad you enjoyed it. I love stop motion animated films, they are a joy to watch, and when they are 'deep', even better!