Relax, America: “Paranormal Activity 2” has a director.
After a protracted and ugly round of corporate infighting about who was helming the next “Paranormal” and “Saw” films, the gig has passed out of the hands of the genre stalwarts entirely and into the hands of Tod Williams, best known as the writer/director of the mildly regarded indies “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole” and “The Door in the Floor.”
This is a lateral move — from mild indie dramas to genre franchising — but not an uncommon one. One of the strangest consistent phenomenons of festival alums of the last decade or so is what you could call “Journeyman Drift,” when seemingly distinctive out-of-the-gate indie guys (who often turn out to be just festival slot-fillers once you move away from the initial hype) quite comfortably hunker down for a lifetime of directing the kind of movies that, 70 years ago, would definitely have been on the bottom half of the double-feature.
There is, for example, Gary Winick, of the upcoming “Letters to Juliet,” a movie about Amanda Seyfried finding true love that somehow isn’t based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. Winick formerly made middling indie dramas with interchangeable casts and titles — “Sweet Nothing,” a movie about dealing drugs with Michael Imperioli and Mira Sorvino, “Sam The Man” starring Fisher Stevens — before getting to the Sundance bigtime with “Tadpole,” starring Sigourney Weaver. That means he can now make movies like “Bride Wars.” Everyone needs to eat.
There’s also Bart Freundlich, who was briefly taken seriously with his solemnly named first feature “The Myth of Fingerprints”; now he makes stuff like “Catch That Kid” and the forthcoming Catherine Zeta-Jones MILF-younger man romcom “The Rebound.” Not even the wildly successful are immune: Seth Gordon made the widely acclaimed documentary “The King of Kong,” routinely cited as a great documentary for people who hate the stereotypical “documentary.” Then he moved on to “Four Christmases.”
Such crossovers aren’t to be confused with the likes of Sam Raimi or James Mangold, independent filmmakers whose work has arguably strengthened when they started to play the game. Raimi may never make another “Evil Dead 2,” but his management of the “Spider-Man” franchise was admirable and a leap forward (mostly, anyway). The difference is between taking more money to up your ambition — as in Mangold’s surprisingly decent “3:10 To Yuma” reboot — and taking the money to drop some nonsense in January.
[Photos: “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole,” Paramount Classics, 1998; “The Myth of Fingerprints,” Sony Pictures Classics, 1997]