Paranormal Activity written and directed by Oren Peli, starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat (2007): A pretty effective horror movie, especially at the bargain basement price of about $15,000. We're back in Blair Witch Project territory -- a fake documentary made up of 'found' footage, in this case of a couple dealing with an increasingly hostile supernatural entity that's attached to the woman and not the house in which all the action takes place. If you're like me, you'll eventually find the camera-obsessed boyfriend so annoying that you'll start to root a bit for The Thing.
Misdirection and suggestion carry the day here -- we never really see what's menacing the couple, and the horror of most scenes lies in relatively small actions caught by the camera, and not by big visual effects moments. The couple are curiously dopey when it comes to trying to combat the entity -- we've all seen enough horror TV shows and movies to at least try salt, iron or the always reliable cedar wood, or at least we'd probably look up and try such remedies by, oh, about Day 10 of the haunting.
Still, very effective. I'm glad Paramount didn't try to remake the movie with name actors (apparently, Stephen Spielberg helped get the movie released with its original cast but with a new ending he suggested) -- the anonymity aids suspension of disbelief. One bit of action, though -- an object igniting while both people are away but the camera is still rolling -- goes a bit too far in terms of the creature's powers, and not far enough in terms of a realistic reaction to the event. I'm pretty sure finding out you've got an entity that can light things on fire in your house might elicit more than the 'ho-hum' that happens here. All in all, highly recommended.
Away We Go written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, directed by Sam Mendes, starring John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara and Maggie Gyllenhall (2009): Cutesy and somewhat pretentious in the Mighty Mendes (American Beauty) Manner. Krasinski and Rudolph, both quite good, play a boho couple expecting their first child. They end up trekking across the US and into Canada and back, in part to see how other families handle child-rearing. The verdict: everyone's cuckoo, though some are more cuckoo than others -- Alison Janney as a falsely jolly harridan and Maggie Gyllenhall as a bonkers New Agey mother lead the pack of undesireables. There are enough laughs and cringes here to keep one interested, along with a creepy out-of-left-field set piece with a creepy child who blurts out a really creepy speech about babies and breathing. Recommended.