Verdict: A low-budget “homemade” horror film that relies on suspense, the effectiveness of which depends on the viewer.
MICAH: I understand where you’re coming from- just remember too, that you didn’t exactly warn me about this kind of stuff before we moved in together, so I think I have a little bit of say in what we do.
KATIE: I get that, but honestly what was I supposed to say? On our first date, ‘Hey, I think there’s a demon that I think has been following me.’
MICAH: No, but maybe on our fifteenth date, or our thirtieth date, or when we decided to live together… that might’ve been a good thing to bring up.
I am not a horror fan. Strange then, I realize, that I should write a review of a horror movie. Perhaps I could say that I am more scared of my editor than I am of horror movies. Okay, that is misleading. Everyone is more scared of our editor than they are of horror movies! But horror flicks really just aren’t my thing — I like watching movies to be entertained and horror is not all that entertaining to me. But even I was unable to escape the “worldwide phenomenon” that was Paranormal Activity last decade.
Paranormal Activity is a movie sort of along the lines of The Blair Witch Project, a low-budget indie that was filmed mostly with hand-held cameras (though usually on tripods, so it lacks the shaky-picture aspect of Blair Witch) and a script that was partially improvised. The movie was shown at a couple of film festivals where it proved to be quite popular and was eventually picked up for a limited and then wide release. It then made massive amounts of money, particularly when considering how little (for movies, at least) it was made for — the entire thing was even filmed in the writer/director’s house!
What is it about? A young couple, Katie and Micah, begin to experience some unexplained phenomena around their house — boxes that fall off shelves, cabinets being opened, etc. — that get progressively less subtle and at the same time more creepy. Katie believes that she is being followed around by a demon, and so Micah decides to get a camera and leave it recording around the house to see what they can document. Spoiler Alert: There is something going on. It is not just in their minds.
So the big question for any horror movie: is it scary? That depends on what you find scary, I guess. The movie relies mostly on suspense and building a sense of dread and foreboding. There is a whole lot of nothing going on in this movie at times. Sometimes the recording at night shows the couple sleeping peacefully until Katie randomly stands up quite still and stares at Micah for a few hours (shown speeded up, luckily for the viewer). Other times we might see things move of their own accord, as if some invisible presence is moving and/or poking around. Between these scenes are others of the couple going about their daily life and/or discussing what, if anything, is going on. It’s not until later in the movie, as one would expect, that things start progressing to the “What the @#%$% was that?!” and “OMG, I think we are in real danger!” phases.
So since there is a whole lot of nothing going on in this movie, one could easily say that it’s pretty stupid and not scary at all. I, however, found it to be rather effective. The sense of dread was definitely there as the movie progressed. Some of the events that occur are definitely creepy and startling. I will admit to being bothered by the film afterwards; I even started to question some of the random noises I was hearing around my apartment. So, yes, the movie was effective. But then again, I don’t watch horror movies often.
Despite the effectiveness and suspense-filled nature of the movie, it does have some issues, though. Namely the characters making some rather questionable (read: dumb) decisions. Some examples: Katie early in the movie is scared enough of what is going on that she wants to leave. Later in the movie, when things are much worse, she’s more like “meh”. Were it me and such things were happening, I certainly wouldn’t stay in that house. Stay with friends, stay at a hotel, heck, go and stay at a church. Even if you don’t leave, why not leave more lights on? Have some other people stay over? Something. I suppose that’s pretty standard for horror movies, but it is still annoying.
But bottom line: if you are looking for a horror movie that is subtle and creepy, this movie could work for you. It’s many, many sequels… maybe less so.
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Paranormal Activity (2007)
Wide Release: 2009
Written by: Oren Pell
Directed by: Oren Pell
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat