Fairly normal horror flick is no Blair Witch

Film<br /><strong>PARANORMAL ACTIVITY<br />Cert:15</strong><br /><br />PARANORMAL ACTIVITY has caused quite a hullabaloo in the States where it has taken $150m, having been made for just $15,000. It follows the now-familiar blueprint established by the Blair Witch Project: characters film themselves, scary goings on are subtly suggested, and an online viral marketing campaign &ndash; including clips that suggest this might be real rather than staged footage &ndash; sends word-of-mouth buzz through the roof.<br /><br />Of course, it arrives here already an all-conquering blockbuster and on those terms it doesn&rsquo;t especially stand up. It&rsquo;s clever, but it&rsquo;s neither as nerve-wracking nor as scary as the Blair Witch Project or subsequent bigger-budget films like The Others or this year&rsquo;s Let the Right One In.<br /><br />Katie and Micah are a wealthy young couple &ndash; she&rsquo;s a student, he&rsquo;s a day trader &ndash; who have some weird stuff going on in their house. Gadgets-mad Micah sets up a film camera in the bedroom to record what happens each night. As time progresses, spooky suggestions of a malevolent presence &ndash; loud crashes, moving doors, billowing sheets &ndash; get more intense, and seem to have an increasingly wicked intent.<br /><br />The film is lifted by some smart psychological elements &ndash; the eerie events chip away at Micah&rsquo;s male pride more than they scare him, and reveal the cracks in the couple&rsquo;s complacent relationship &ndash; and the initial instances are suitably unsettling. But the film&rsquo;s episodic nature denies the build up of tension, and the conclusion is a real disappointment.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Timothy Barber<br /><br />Theatre<br /><strong>NATION<br />The National Theatre, Olivier</strong><br /><br />Mark Ravenhill, best known for his cynical, raucous fin de siecle play Shopping and F*cking, proves his versatility afresh with this adaptation of Terry Pratchett&rsquo;s island adventure. The shift from the decidedly adult to family friendly might be surprising, but the result is splendid in its own way, if chaotic.<br /><br />The setting is a Pacific island in the 1860s, which has been destroyed by a tsunami. It also happens to have shipwrecked Daphne, a young Victorian girl. On the island, Daphne finds Mau, a boy-man who must find the courage to be the island&rsquo;s chief, since all other contenders are dead. Daphne and Mau become inseparable, and together they breathe life into the totem-worshipping, ravaged dregs of the island&rsquo;s society. The idea is that together Mau and Daphne come of age (overseen by a foul-mouthed parrot) as they discard old doctrine to forge a new nation. <br /><br />There&rsquo;s some respectable questioning of superstition versus science &ndash; Mau becomes enamoured with Daphne&rsquo;s progressive world and doubts his tribespeople&rsquo;s belief system of patriarchal gods. But the island has its superstitious power too, as Daphne learns.<br /><br />The staging is gobsmacking &ndash; not only through puppetry (wild pigs and greedy vultures rendered to perfection) but with screens and strings that enable Mau to swim, plunge and row a boat with beautiful realism. Despite its thematic messiness, you&rsquo;ll be cheering at the end &ndash; the charisma and charm of both characters and story can&rsquo;t fail to delight.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Zoe Strimpel<br /><br />Art<br /><strong>KIENHOLZ: THE HOERENGRACHT<br />National Gallery<br /></strong><br />THE LATE American artist Ed Kienholz and his wife Nancy made this walk-through representation of Amsterdam&rsquo;s red light district in the 1980s. Its dark alleys and disturbing imagery are a jarring presence in the hallowed National Gallery &ndash; though it&rsquo;s not necessarily as incongruous as it may seem. As the exhibition points out, prostitution as a theme in art dates back centuries.<br /><br />Kienholz&rsquo;s red light zone (&ldquo;Hoerengracht&rdquo; in Dutch) is a nightmarish netherworld. Figures of prostitutes, moulded from life, stare blankly from the windows of their ramshackle garrets, their shop-mannequin faces encased in metal-and-glass frames, exaggerating the inhumanity of their predicament. There are street bollards, bicycles, radios playing, and the whole environment seems to be crying &ndash; gluey liquid drips down windows, mirrors and faces. Everything seems filthy. It&rsquo;s desperately seedy, and makes one think of Hogarth and Victorian prisons. But it&rsquo;s also like a spectacular stage set, a performance that neither endorses nor condemns the horrors it depicts.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; TB