Paranormal Activity vs. Paranormal Entity
Comparing the low-budget horror sensation to its even lower-budget knockoff.
Of course, there's not much sport in roughing up Paranormal Entity for being a bad movie. What makes the unflattering comparison between the Paranormals telling is that this is a rare instance of the Asylum taking on a very good, very tight film. As a general rule, the worse the blockbuster source material, the better the Asylum's mockbusters look. There was no way that the Transmorphers franchise could've been any more cavalier in its disdain for filmmaking fundamentals (or its audience) than Michael Bay's grandiose Transformers films.
Mockbustering a bloated, puerile headache machine like Transformers or a franchise throwaway like AVP: Alien vs. Predator—AVH: Alien vs. Hunter, in the Asylum's take—is in its very nature a kind of criticism. The Asylum isn't necessarily adhering to the variously attributed French filmmaking maxim, "The only way to criticize a film is to make another film," but it's not tough to see the parallels between Guy Ritchie padding his dumbish Sherlock Holmes with stunts and animal jokes and the Asylum stuffing theirs—also called Sherlock Holmes—with scenes in which Sherlock battles CGI dinosaurs and cheapo dragons. The Day the Earth Stopped, the Asylum's take on the ponderous 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, ups the number of giant space robots and swaps out Keanu Reeves' poker-faced agent of alien destruction for one Sinead McCafferty, who looks like a swimsuit model. All this offhand goofiness is probably a reflection of budgetary expedience, but the implied mockery in the mockbuster is palpable nonetheless, and kind of refreshing.
If this is accidental satire, so be it: The more puffed-up and self-serious and dumb Hollywood blockbusters become, the more they demand to see their goofiness mirrored by cheap, unpretentious, equally dumb knockoffs. Against Paranormal Activity, a blockbuster with no bloat to mock, the Asylum's mockbusting is a bust. Hold them up against crass efforts like Transformers and The Da Vinci Code, though, and the Asylum's mockbusters start to seem … well, definitely not good, but almost necessary. Personally, I'm really looking forward to the Asylum's Battle for the Planet of the Blue Space Cats.
Correction, May 10, 2010: This article originally stated that the Asylum cleared a $5 million profit in 2009. The article also originally contained a joke that was similar to one in a Wired article about Asylum that was published in December 2009. The Slate article described $5 million as "roughly equal to Liam Neeson's hair-extension budget for Clash of the Titans but pretty impressive given the company's fringe position in the industry." The Wired article stated that $5 million "would barely cover Michael Bay's volumizer per diem but enough to make Asylum a reliably healthy business." ( Return to the corrected sentence.)