Paranormal Activity (2007)
Rated – R
Directed by Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
What is it about horror films that truly scare people? Surely, this question is different for each and every one of us. Whether you think serial killers are more frightening than aliens; or you think that ghosts and demons are far scarier than monsters, that depends on what people believe in. So it’s self-explanatory what kind of scares Paranormal Activity is going for, and heck, if you don’t believe in ghosts and spirits then why would you be scared of this movie?
But that doesn’t matter. For those who don’t believe, you’re supposed to see the fear in the eyes of the couple, Katie and Micah, as they’re being tormented by a demon. And for those who do believe, well goodluck sleeping the night after viewing this micro-budget horror flick.
Shot in faux-documentary style, the film showcases a young couple in their San Diego house in 2006. Katie is a graduate student of English and Micah is a day trader. They’ve been with each other for three years. Katie expresses her concern for weird events that have been happening to her since she was young. What does Micah do about it? Well, he buys a camcorder to record all of the strange happenings. And just like a new toy, Micah cannot put down the camera for anything… even when Katie screams when she sees something in the bathroom. “Did you actually go back to pick up your camera?” she asks.
The first half of the film has many deliberately funny moments. Micah seems to be having fun at the expense of Katie’s terror, but he genuinely wants to help her and believes that recording the paranormal activity could provide some type of proof and foundation to solve the problem. They talk to a psychic expert who is of little-to-no help at all. The small source of clarity he provides is his explanation that the demon feeds off of negative energy between the two and to not invite it in by the means of a Ouija Board.
The clash between Micah’s nonchalant attitude and Katie’s desperate call for help creates a tidal wave of building tension. And like the psychic said, the demon spirit got stronger. Maybe Micah should’ve paid more attention to the psychic instead of asking him whether or not he could predict the traffic.
Micah’s idea was to place the camcorder on a tripod in their bedroom and record the entire night as they sleep. With their bed off-center to the right, the door wide open, and a hallway and stairs visible… this was a perfect setup for horror junkies. And it were these night time shots that truly extracted the fear from the screen and into our minds.
What does happen during the night when our eyes are shut? I won’t divulge into any events that occur to the helpless couple, but I must express how impressed I was for the way the film progressed. The suspense built during these night recordings were truly masterful. And I honestly don’t know how some of the phenomenon were accomplished. The cuts were notably visible at times, but during other moments when I expected an edit, I couldn’t catch one. I applaud the brilliant filmmaking in that aspect.
You’ll hear comparisons with this movie to to The Blair Witch Project from 1999. In many ways they are quite similar. They’re both films that work as footage found after the events have occured. They were both made with a super-low budget. They both starred minimal and unknown actors. And they both work quite effectively.
It’s ridiculously tough to live up to the hype of “scariest movie of all-time.” Some will allow that type of expectation to ruin the film for them. Don’t make the same mistake.
Paranormal Activity was a spectacle of how gore, cheap thrills, and millions of dollars aren’t necessary to create a memorable horror film. Simply tapping into the mystery of the unknown can made a creaking door or a rippling sheet seem terrorfying. It’s genius filmmaking.
Oh and finally, I hope you saw this movie before all of your friends did for two reasons. First, this is one of those movies that really stay with you long after the lights have turned on after the conclusion. You will talk about this movie and it will linger in your mind. Second, if you weren’t a part of the first wave of viewers, then you’ll become one of the sheep of haters during the second wave backlash. Don’t say that I didn’t tell you so.