Review: Paranormal Activity
PLOT: Katie and Micah have a feeling they are not alone. After a handful of mysterious events, Micah decides to set up a number of cameras to catch what they may be missing. But once the video is in place, they find that sometimes ignorance is bliss. As the nights pass, the ghostly goings on get worse and worse. Soon, the couple find that they may not be dealing with Casper the friendly ghost.
Rarely do I find myself affected by a horror film. Aside from the occasional clenched fists, it is hard to really feel moved by something designed to scare you. As of late, it seems more and more filmmakers are looking to make you squirm from graphic violence, or cheer with an over-the-top kill rather than truly give Goosebumps. Im talking an honest to goodness level of fear. So it was truly a surprise to sit in a darkened theatre, hoping to be terrified and being richly rewarded with a slow chill moving down my spine. The movie that managed to pull this one off is PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. But it wasnt a series of gruesome images, or even a masked killer ready to pounce on his or her victim, it was sometimes merely a door opening by itself. There is a slow burn that starts quietly, and as each night passes for a young couple, the darkness seems a little more nightmarish.
This is a ghost story in the simplest of terms. A young couple, Katie and Micah (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) seem to be having some problems with their new house. They claim to hear noises and a few other things that go bump in the night. But we also find that Katie has a history of the supernatural in her past. She tells of creepy stories about being eight years old and terrorized by the sound of heavy breathing or a dark shadow standing next to her bed. When these new ghostly goings on begin to happen to her as an adult, she wants to simply ignore them. But boyfriend Micah is a extremely fascinated by the whole idea. He decides to set up cameras inside their home and film everything that is going on. This includes one in the bedroom meant to record what happens while they sleep. It is true that sometimes are blind to true terror. I once heard Peter Benchley (the author of Jaws) say that if you ever took a helicopter ride over the ocean and could see everything inside clearly, youd never go in the ocean again. You may have the same reaction if you knew what was going on around you while youre sleeping at least if you were in this movie.
Paranormal Activity presents a real life couple in a very frightening situation. What begins as a door swinging back and fourth or a shadow crossing the room in the dark, soon turns into something far more intense. And both Featherston and Sloat are very natural and believable as a couple with an unnatural need to pick up a camera. Yes, there are a couple of times I had to really suspend my disbelief when it came to Micah filming some of the creepy events. I cant imagine reaching for a video camera when someone I love is screaming in horror. Aside from that, I had only a couple minor problems with the film, one of them being the final few frames. The film which has relied on a subtle and eerie build up, suddenly turns into a quick fix of shock cinema. But it is mere seconds and certainly doesnt harm what has come before it. I also felt that one sequence involving a Ouija board and a sudden fire was not used all too effectively. Just the damn thing moving was working fine with me.
The biggest problem with this film may very well be the unbelievable hype that surrounds it. Once a really good and freaky horror film comes along and scares up a bunch of people, the excitement begins to build. By the time many of you will have the chance to see it you may find yourself questioning the high praise it has received. Really, not a single film could live up to being touted as the greatest horror movie experience of all time, one that will scare you so bad it will have you passing out and being committed to a mental institution type of bull. But dont let the hype scare you away. The answer is simple. If you are not a fan of films like Blair Witch, CLOVERFIELD, [REC] or others where the characters are filming everything going on, there is a good chance this wont work for you. And if your taste is for horror that has a cool opening kill and another one every ten minutes or so, you may want to wait until video if you have to see everything. So be aware that Paranormal is methodical in its thrills and has absolutely no gore. What does it have you may ask? A chill inducing, sense of dread that will scare the hell out of you if you allow it. I guarantee this will be one of the creepiest damn movies ever when you watch it in the (dis)comfort of your own home on DVD and your imaginations runs wild.
What I loved about Paranormal is how director Oren Peli builds his ghostly tale. In the beginning, it feels a bit like watching an episode of Ghost Hunters. He slowly pieces together the story and does a fine job of creating just the right amount of tension. At first, there is a slightly whimsical feel as the couple deal with a possible guest. But wait? There is something sinister here. Once the young couple retire for the evening and darkness falls, there is an absolutely disturbing sound design as it drones and hums when the ghostly visitor makes his presence known. That is when the chills came and it is also what helped make this a most haunting experience. Aside from Blair Witch, the film seems to have more in common with Robert Wise classic THE HAUNTING. The use of sound effects, and the few limited visual effects are all genuinely scary. You may not be jumping out of your seat in horror, but after watching Paranormal Activities, you might be inclined to sleep with the lights on for a week or four.
RATING - 8/10