In terms of a movie accomplishing what it set out to do, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY may be the movie of the year. There are many, many flaws in it...but its goal is to give the viewer the willies, and it succeeds. I seldom (and I DO MEAN seldom) notice my heart racing faster and find that I'm leaning forward in my seat when watching a movie. I've seen it all, I feel like.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was a delightful exception. I found it truly disturbing and agitating. I actually felt dread. The kind of feeling little kids get when watching a horror movie...the feeling of having been shown another world that is really an awful place, and of not quite being able to separate it from reality. While I never truly believed I was watching a true story...something about the film gave me genuine goosebumps.
In case you don't know, this is one of those "found" home videos that essentially shows how one couple who are being haunted used their camcorder to document the events. The key moments come in the night, with the camera set at one end of the couple's bedroom, focused on their bed and the door leading into their room from the upstairs landing and hallway. That's about it. Katie & Micah are the couple, and aside from brief appearances by two minor characters, they are IT. The whole thing was shot in a normal suburban house. It was made VERY cheaply indeed. (Yes, it is actually fiction...just like BLAIR WITCH.)
We saw it the night it opened in our city, and I can say that in the packed house, there were genuine screams of fright. Most times we see a horror movie these days, the theatre is packed with teenagers who scream mostly to try to scare other members of their group or to elicit a laugh from the crowd. There was some of that early on...but as the film developed a true silence fell over the crowd. And it was only broken on occasion by screams that were NOT there to illicit laughs...they were genuine bursts of terror. The experience made me fully realize how seldom we actually see genuinely scary stuff.
The thing that frustrates me (and is probably the reason I've waited so long to post a review), is that I honestly can't really explain why the movie works. I seldom lack for an opinion and for support of that opinion...but I must scratch my head here.
The actors, also named Katie and Micah, are not actually all that great. I assume they improvised much of their dialogue, and it has the feel of almost, but not quite, "normal" conversation. Once in awhile, we have to wonder exactly WHY a character is insisting on carrying a camcorder with them...would you worry much about it if you thought an evil entity was in your attic? And it feels, on the surface, like a big gimmick.
Is it the fact that we can all relate to an ordinary suburban American house? It may not look like our homes, but for most of us, it is in the ballpark. Is it the idea of a ghost (or worse) coming into our bedrooms and crawling into bed with us as we sleep? (Yes, that IS creepy, but why does it WORK so well in this film?) Is it the fact that Micah and especially Katie look like real people, not stars (Katie is a perfectly normal woman who in comparison to the movie stars we see, looks positively pudgy)? I'm simply not sure. The execution seems far too simple. It's not as though the director has used gadgetry or tricks. Perhaps the lack of those tricks we so often see allows us to avoid the arms length feeling we get from glossier films.
I don't know, and I'm frankly tired of trying to figure it out. I suspect the film will not play as well at home, unless you can get a crowd over and turn out all your lights. It probably wouldn't hold up too well on repeat viewings, either. But for me, it was truly, chillingly effective, and thus I have to give it very high marks indeed.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
LikeThe Blair Witch Project,Paranormal Activityis 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 film's spook-show approach. Those that foundBlair Witch's less-is-more approach aggravating will feel the same way aboutParanormal, but the sleight of hand exhibited by first-time director Oren Peli, and assisted by his two leads, relative newcomers Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, should provide adventurous viewers with fresher and stronger scares than anything from Hollywood in recent years.--Paul Gaita