Director: Oren Peli
Writer: Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Paranormal Activity was released to festivals in 2007 to much critical and audience acclaim, and was only recently picked up by Paramount Pictures and released nationwide to pretty outstanding box office success. Made for $11,000, and sure to gross like mad, it is being toted as the next Blair Witch Project, which happens to be one of my favorite horror films. I loved a lot of things about Paranormal Activity, but can’t honestly say it would make my top 10 or even 20 in the genre.
The story follows Micah and Katie, a dating couple who have recently moved in together in a new housing development in middle America. Their life seems perfectly idyllic, save for the curse on Katie that is only eluded to at various points in the film. As a child, she experienced “hauntings” in every house she moved into, mostly including a black mist at the end of her bed, and a whispering in her ear. Now that Katie and Micah have moved into their new place, and the strange noises and occurrences have followed them, Micah has decided to document their findings with a fancy pants camera, and hours of footage of them sleeping. Creepiness abounds.
I’m surprised that this movie wasn’t made earlier. In the wake of such “real ghost story” movies as A Haunting in Connecticut, and An American Haunting, it’s due time that there is a movie that attempts real scares with no cheesy CG effects and unfair violin screeches. And what I appreciate most about this film is that they seem to understand that audiences aren’t foolish. They make an obligatory claim in the beginning that the footage is real, but their website and IMDB page acknowledge that the film was shot with actors, on a set, and with a script.
The writing in the film is believable. That said, some of the moments verge on predictably cheesy. The flaw is that the movie attempts to be ultra-realistic, but then is based in a world that is fundamentally not real. Now I’m not here to argue the existence of ghosts or demons, but there is a challenge in writing casual dialogue about psychics and the supernatural. I’m a cynic, I’ll acknowledge that, but this is what I found continually distanced me from the world of the film. I couldn’t be wrapped up in the fear, because at several points the actors performances noticeably weaken. These are the points when they are talking about the ghost directly, and the dialogue comes across as silly.
The acting is wonderful. Both Katie and Micah (their real names, of course), are able to act and react so casually to each other and their surroundings, and believably descend into paranoia as the events of the movie progress. As I mentioned earlier, the weakest moments in the film are conversations with a psychic, or about a Ouija board. The expository elements in the first ten minutes of the movie are great, but once this science-fiction element is introduced, it becomes a nearly impossible feat to play with utter naturalism.
The scares in the movie are plentiful, but sparse enough to not be irritating. What kills me in a horror movie are cheap scares, and while there are a few “jumpy” moments, they are few and far between, and fun enough to not make me hate the producers. I do think the movie would have benefitted from fewer light-handed moments. The scariest parts of the film are the striking visuals; things like Katie being discovered in the dark in various parts of the house after sleep walking, or watching Micah sleep from the end of the bed. Once the realistic world of this home movie are set up, the director should feel free to really get the audience going with big scares, which can still be pulled off with a subtlety. I kept waiting for the couple to go downstairs and discover their furniture stacked, or the TV upside down, or a mirror shattered. Instead, we’re treated to a few too many slight door movements, or a knock downstairs.
MAKE – What makes the movie is its innovation. It’s bizarre to me that there is no film like this, because I feel like I’ve had this idea before. Its concept is fresh and scary, and it is produced with a novel éclat that makes the audience’s journey fulfilling and worthwhile.
BREAK – What could break the movie is the pacing. There are too many of the same bedroom shot, which while I appreciate as far as getting the audience scared of one location, and then returning often to it, it becomes a bit tiresome and predictable. There are only so many times we can see a door slam before it loses its effect. What would have helped is a quicker descent towards the true scares. That said, my other problem with the film was the believability that they would stay in the house as long as they do, and keep filming it. Once I heard whispering, I’d be out of there.
BOTTOM LINE – See the movie now, because whether you want to or not, someone is going to make you watch it one day. It’s truly scary, and I really appreciate the writing and acting. I’m a firm believer in reality, but I do love when a movie bends this reality towards something more supernatural. A movie like The Blair Witch Project is infinitely scarier to me than The Amityville Horror.