For better or worse, the Paranormal Activity series helped launch a new wave of found footage and home haunting horror films. This is in spite of extremely low production values, poor acting, and narratives that don't actually arrive until the last twenty minutes of the film. These films have been the butt of the joke online for years and now the joke has arrived onscreen in A Haunted House. A Haunted House fails on a structural level because it packs in far more horror content than is expected in this sub-genre of film. Marlon Wayans and Scary Movie 2 producer Rick Alvarez team up to write a screenplay that never comes up for breath. Every scene is a joke about modern horror films, specifically found footage, exorcism, and haunted house pictures. Yet, within the confines of those genres, they introduce the actual horror conflict too early to reflect the state of the worst horror being churned out post-Paranormal Activity.
Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) decides to document every moment of his relationship with his girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins) when she moves into his house. Strange things immediately start happening, bringing on a cavalcade of psychics, security experts and priests to free the home of any evil. Everything is caught on tape whether you want to see it or not.
You can't fault A Haunted House for being lazy. The cast and screenplay try very hard to get laughs out of the audience in every scene. Wayans and Alvarez cast a wide net of comedy--wordplay, direct pop culture parodies, shock humor, slapstick, and vulgarity--at every turn. It's hard to imagine anyone not laughing at least once during the film, but that one time might be the only time you laugh.
For all the accuracy of the parody, the film tries way too hard to be outrageous. A parody of the finale of the original [REC], for example, hits the mark perfectly then repeats the gag with a naked sexual predator. Why? Because Wayans and Alvarez thought it might get a laugh. The exorcism sequence--with spot-on visual references so The Last Exorcism and The Devil Inside--faces a similar fate because the priest is a sexist former prison inmate who repeatedly encourages Malcolm to ditch his girlfriend and find someone else because women be crazy.
The material in A Haunted House that comes out best is the direct parody of the first two Paranormal Activity films. From the disturbances in the kitchen to the terrible sleeping habits, the send-ups of the small handful of actual scares in the other series are sometimes clever and funny. Director Michael Tiddes matches the style of the scenes perfectly and the cast takes these moments as seriously as possible to sell the joke.
A Haunted House actually had a lot of potential to be a good little parody of the found footage/haunted house/exorcism resurgence. It's a film that knows the genre well and exploits its weaknesses at every turn. Unfortunately, the screenwriters did not trust the absurdity of an audience losing it over a chandelier swinging by an open door to be funny enough on its own. Most jokes are pushed so far or come from such a nasty place that they're just as likely to shut you down as they are to make you laugh.
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