REVIEW: ‘Paranormal Activity’

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Grade: A-

I’ll admit that I’m not in love with the horror genre (which makes me a minority in the film blogger community). There are some great horror classics, but recent attempts at the genre have been embarrassing as filmmakers have predominately opted for recycled plots with an emphasis on gore. Take a story with a few pointless twists, add in a few quick cuts and loud music cues, and a female protagonist who can scream and you have a horror movie. These films are more likely to have me checking my watch then sitting on the edge of my seat.

Which is exactly why a film like Paranormal Activity is a breath of fresh air. I would call it more of a psychological thriller than a horror movie, but the micro-budget sensation is a film that deserves to be seen. Paranormal Activity combines some of the psychological elements from horror classics like The Haunting and B-movie filming techniques from recent films like Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project. It emphasizes the psychological elements of horror to fantastic end, creating an experience that shakes you up and sends you out of the theatre looking over your shoulder.

The story behind Paranormal Activity is almost as fascinating as the narrative within the film. Director Oren Peli filmed the movie in his own house on a budget of about $11 thousand. After an online campaign that has emphasized the audience reactions to the film, there were over one million “Demand It” requests, where people demanded the film come to their city. The film has now made over $11 million and continues to sell out screenings. After an initial release of only 13 screens the film will be expanding to over 1,000 this coming weekend.

The movie follows a San Diego couple who have decided to document the entity that seems to be haunting them. Katie has had the same being haunting her since she was eight years old and her boyfriend Micah has decided the best way to get rid of the thing is by filming it, taunting it, using Ouija boards and everything else that a guy in his 20s who grew up watching horror movies would do. Their activities encourage the entity to become more present and the hauntings become increasingly severe as the couple gradually lose control of their own house.

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Paranormal Activity is filmed like found footage. The male lead Micah Sloat is the one behind the camera most of the time, which he points at his girlfriend, his house, and often himself. The presence of the evil spirit is shown in such a simplistic way, that it leaves plenty to the imagination. Doors wiggle, sheets billow, lights turn on and off – effects that could easily be pulled off with some string and some fans. However, the effect is terrifying. Nothing is scarier than the unknown – the human brain can develop things more frightening than any filmmaker can cook up and Peli knows this and plays it up.

The film really has only two characters played by Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. The novice actors do a fantastic job inhabiting the screen and reacting to the unseen poltergeist. The script was largely based on improvisation and the flippant Micah comes up with some great one-liners. Katie is captivating as she descends into insanity the more she realizes how out of control the situation has become.

It has been said before, but it may have never been truer – this film needs to be seen in theatres. I saw the movie in a late showing at a packed theatre of mostly high school students. You know the type – they pay money to see a movie in theatres just so they can talk to each other and send text messages throughout. It was fascinating to watch as they set down their cell phones and shut up as the movie became really suspenseful. There were many screams, there was cowering, and there was some definite eye-covering. I’m not the type who usually gets scared and this movie shook me up. That night as my wife slept soundly beside me I lay awake jolting at every little sound I heard.

The movie was not without a few minor flaws. The ending was a bit of a disappointment and one of the rare moments when I smirked rather than jolt with fear. However, that brief feeling of safety was taken away when no credits rolled and the projection operator forced us to leave the theatre with the lights still off.

Bottom Line: Being scared is fun. Bring a lot of friends and don’t go home to an empty house afterwards.

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  • Rebecca

    Boring boring boring! Pare the movie down to 30 minutes and it’d be better. We ultimately do not care about this couple like we were made to care about the kids in Blair Witch. Maybe if this movie had come out before Blair Witch, it’d have been better (but I somehow doubt it)

  • Jocelyn

    Omg, the only scary part was at the very end and it was only because the screaming, and that freaky smile she left for the camera. I’m sorry I don’t think that happen. The bitch probably just went crazy killed her boyfriend, then went to a different country. I mean it even seems made up.

  • Just saw it on DVD. I flat out hated it. Everything that was supposed to be scary wasn’t. My short review is on my blog. I gave it an F, something I’ve only given a few other films.

    Awful. Just awful.

  • Brandon Cooley

    I loved the Blair Witch Project, but I didn’t like this movie. Unlike the blair witch, I thought the acting in this was unbelievable and I wasn’t convinced that these people were being haunted. I would give this 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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