There's no studio logo when the film begins, and there are no opening credits. There's only a title card thanking the families of Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston for their cooperation. We then go back to the fall of 2006 and see home video footage of Micah prepping the camera just as Katie pulls into the driveway of their San Diego home. Strange things have been going on in the house as they sleep, and they want to capture it on film. A psychic is invited over, and only then do we learn that strange things have been happening to Featherston pretty much her entire life. Is she being followed by some supernatural force? If so, what does it want with her? The psychic makes it clear that his area of expertise is ghosts, which won't do much good for Featherston since it seems she has more of a demon problem.
This is the basic scenario of "Paranormal Activity," the most inventive and frightening horror movie of recent memory. Presenting itself as a documentary consisting of raw footage, it works not as a gory, over the top camp fest but as a slow, disturbing unfolding of events. It utilizes unnerving subtleties like phantom scratching noises, mysterious thuds, unexplained shadows, and lights that turn on and off completely on their own. The more overt visual scares come with no explanations for how or why they occur. It's not about what you see, but about what you don't see. Made on a budget of just $15,000, shot in just seven days in a real house without a crew, and released almost entirely through word-of-mouth and internet campaigns, "Paranormal Activity" may someday be regarded as one of the scariest movies ever made.
Most of the terror is reserved for long, mostly uninterrupted shots of the couple sleeping in their bedroom. At first, we only hear strange noises that don't seem to be coming from anywhere. As the film progresses, stranger, more intense things happen. The door forcefully slams shut, after which we hear loud knocking. Footsteps trail through the bedroom. The bed sheets lift and lower completely on their own. At one point, Featherston awakens, gets out of bed, and just stands there staring at Sloat for the next couple of hours (shown in high speed). When noises wake both of them up, they search the upstairs hallways and discover that the overhead passage to the attic has been opened. What do you think Sloat will find when he goes up to investigate?
Wikipedia defines home as "a place of residence or refuge and comfort." Unlike films such as "The Blair Witch Project," in which the terror is distantly located in the middle of the woods, "Paranormal Activity" takes place in a familiar environment where one is supposed to feel safe and secure from the outside world. The greatest terror is in knowing that your place of residence or refuge and comfort is in fact no such place; rather, it's a place a fear. So many primal fears are exploited in this film--fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, fear of helplessness and isolation, fear of exposure--and yet they're never reduced to the level of cheap thrills. Sitting in the theater, I can't guarantee that you will watch in helpless fascination, as you may keep covering your eyes in anticipation of something dreadful happening. What I can guarantee is that you will be genuinely afraid.
That being said, this movie probably wouldn't have worked were it not for Sloat and Featherston (the actors, not the characters they play). Together, they make a convincing young couple. Even more convincing, however, is the way they react separately to the escalating supernatural events. Sloat initially doesn't take anything that happens too seriously, although he does seem enthusiastic about having a camera in the house. Only later, when things go from bad to worse, does he find himself in a power struggle with the entity stalking his girlfriend. There are times when he tries to be the dominant and protective male, claiming that he has the wherewithal to save his girlfriend; in truth, he has never had any control of the situation. Featherton is physically and psychologically more vulnerable, well aware that her past is catching up with her, frustrated at the willfulness and skepticism of her boyfriend. Their believability is a credit to first-time director Oren Peli, who opted not to have them recite scripted lines of dialogue.
The film ends exactly the same way it began: Without any credits. The only thing we get is yet another title card, and this time, I won't reveal what it says. I will say that the shot leading up the title card is the most chilling one I've seen since the slow, agonizing close up of Justin Long's head at the end of "Jeepers Creepers." I have a feeling that the success of "Paranormal Activity" will continue to mount, relying not on studio enforced tactics but on audience reaction, the most authentic promotion there is for a movie. Just as it should be--this is an astonishing achievement, not merely as a story, but as an exercise in pacing, atmosphere, and apprehension. A word of warning: It earns the right to be called a horror movie, so if you don't like being scared, you should definitely stay away.
*** out of **** "Paranormal Activity" is a rare case. It's the kind of horror movie in which those behind it would like nothing more to indulge and please devote fans of the horror genre; but nevertheless, the response from such a community is sharply divided. From personal experience; reactions seem to range from "loved it" to "hated it". This is unfortunate, because the movie tries hard and emerges rather successful; it would just appear that somewhat misleading marketing … more
Constantine, Queen of the damned, Drag me to hell, Underworld, House on haunted hill, The Amityville horror, An American Haunting, The haunting in Connecticut, The ring, The grudge, The Omen, The Hills have eyes, 1408, Ghost Ship, Jeepers Creepers, Halloween, Darkness Falls, Silent hill, etc I could go on and on and on. None of the movies I’ve named or could name even come close to Paranormal Activity. If you’ve read my Drag me to hell review then you … more
Remember a few years ago when “The Blair Witch Project” overcame genre expectations and became a blockbuster cult hit? That film had several other films that were inspired by its “Mockumentary” style gimmick; “Cloverfield”, “[REC]” and “Quarantine” to name a few. Well, writer/director Oren Peli’s “PARANORMAL ACTIVITY” is another film that follows in the footsteps of those films. It premiered in the 2007 Screamfest … more
**Cracking knuckles** The scariest, most terrifying experience you could possibly have in the theaters?? Hmm, I digress. I seem to remember writing a review for Cloverfield back in 2008. Oh wait, I also wrote a column for that Blair Witch Project travesty also in 1999. Needless to say this handheld camera film gimmick doesn't seem to be getting any better nor do I appreciate them anymore after 10 & a half years. I am steering clear from anymore of these … more
The sheer fact that this film was produced for around 10,000 USD is something to be praised. Although the actors' skills weren't top notch, there was definitely a notable "horror film" feeling broadcast to moviegoers through watching Paranormal Activity. While watching the movie, all of the points that make a good horror film are present – you know, the “what the hell are you doing, no! Call the demonologist!” and “ are you crazy?!! get out … more
Banking on the added "realism" of using a home video camera, "Paranormal Activity" plays out on the screen in a fashion very similar to films such as "The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield." Much like these two films, the success of this movie relies heavily on the execution of this gimmicky style of filming. The film opens with Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) fairly settled into their new home. Micah has purchased a camera in order to capture "paranormal" … more
Before I start the review, I'd just like to mention that I'm an avid horror movie fan. In the ocean of horrible horror movies, it's a challenge to find those few hidden treasures laying under the sand. This movie fares pretty well, but it's not because it is "really scary". Personally, I didn't think this movie was all that scary. But gauging the crazy reactions from others in the movie theater... some people were really genuinely scared out of their minds. … more
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Paranormal Activity is a 2009 mockumentary horror film written and directed by Oren Peli. The movie premiered at the Screamfest Film Festival in US on October 14, 2007, and at the Slamdance Film Festival on January 18, 2008. The movie is currently in limited release in several cities in the United States as of October of 2009. The movie centers on a young couple, Katie and Micah, who are haunted by a supernatural presence in their home. The movie is presented through the camera set up by the couple to capture the paranormal activity.
Like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity is an impressive and harrowing indie chiller that derives much of its terror--and there is quite a bit of that in its brief running time--by playing on the most basic of human fears: that which cannot be seen. Though one might assume that the point-of-view aesthetic had been worn out thanks toCloverfieldandQuarantine(and, lest one forgets,Blair Witch),Paranormalmakes excellent use of the single-camera technique, which helps to not only preserve the film's central conceit--a new-minted couple records the increasingly threatening supernatural phenomena that have invaded their home on a camcorder--but underscore the realism needed to drive home the low-fi (if completely persuasive) special effects. The approach is also crucial to the film's suspense, which unfolds in long, largely broken takes to nerve-rattling effect. Not every horror fan--or moviegoer--will fall for the ...