Katie and Micah are a couple experiencing some strange events in their home; strange noises, lights turning off and on by themselves, and soft whispering in the middle of the night. This is not an odd occurrence for Katie — this kind of thing has been happening to her since she was a child. Some kind of entity has been following her all her life, no matter where she lives. But now she is with Micah, and this stubborn day trader is not gonna just sit back and let some “thing” come into his house and start scaring the shit out of them. He decides that he is going to take care of the problem himself, but in order to do so he needs to know what he is up against. He starts by purchasing a camera to start recording the things happening around the home, his hope being that by capturing any of the phenomena on film, then they will be better equipped to solve the problem. At first Katie is reluctant, thinking that this will just make the situation worse, but she consents and even lets Micah set the camera up to record them while they sleep. The camera captures paranormal activity almost immediately and Katie’s initial fears are validated as things do get worse. Much, much worse.
Paranormal Activity is the low-budget ghost story that I am sure you all are seeing the commercials for now. The fact that you may be seeing the film in a theater at all is a story in itself. Orin Peli shot PA a few years ago on a meager budget of $11,000 and in his own home. The film was shown at horror festivals and garnered very good responses leading to Paramount eventually picking up the film for a possible remake. They later released the film to some college towns a few weeks ago. These sold out shows and viewer buzz led to Paramount giving the film a limited release in 12 theaters and watch it gross $77,000 in only midnight screenings. PA was then expanded to 159 theaters this weekend and as of October 8th, it had grossed $1.2 million. Paramount’s erection is now akin to a California Redwood and stated that if they received one million requests to PA released in their local theater, they would give it a nationwide release. That is exactly what happened. Staying true to their word, Paranormal Activity will open nationwide on Friday, October 16. So, is all the hype this film getting warranted?
Sort of. But I am afraid all the “scariest movie of all time” blurbing is doing a fairly effective horror film a dis-service by setting some very high expectations. Granted, tt is a nightmare scenario if you are believer of the supernatural or not. Preying on the fears we have all had at some point, of an intruder in your home at night when you are at one of your most vulnerable states. The film works on different levels by exploiting the horror of having someone (or something) robbing your sense of security — being spied on while you lay huddled under your covers. Have you ever seen the time-lapse footage of someone sleeping? Showing how we all toss and turn throughout the night without ever realizing it? Imagine someone filming you in that fashion, only later when you watch the footage, a man walks into the room, stares at you for a few moments, then leaves. That’s Paranormal Activity.
Creating a slow build, Peli starts simple by lulling the viewer into believing we are watching a real couple by showing their interactions with each other. For the most part, Katie and Micah have a believable dynamic – even if I was often distracted by Katie’s magnificent rack because I am very juvenile. The initial night footage begins the same way, the downhill rolling snowball beginning with a door moving, or the sound of footsteps. For something so simple, you will probably hear the audible gasps and whispers elicited from the audience whenever these events happen – proof that Peli has done a good job at selling the “real” aspect of this found footage. As the couple continues their self-investigation – including soliciting the help of a psychic and the introduction of a Ouija board – things start escalating to terrifying levels.
Some of you may agree with the “scariest film ever!!!” description. Some of you may be the audience member who gasp at the supernatural shenanigans Micah captures on film. But some of you may be like me. Sure, the night scenes were fairly effective and there were moments when I felt the chill created from watching something creepy. Putting myself in their shoes and wonder how I would handle waking up to the sound of something unseen whispering my name in my ear. This is when PA is the most effective. Unfortunately, these scenes are separated by the day scenes consisting of the initially charming Micah and the very, very tolerant Katie as they bicker, discuss their situation, bicker, discuss their situation, bicker. I was not as sold by the pair as others seem to be and as the film rolled on I found Micah extremely irritating, Katie’s acting during her “really upset” or “really terrified” scenes too amateur and the actions the couple take so unbelievably dumb that it was hard for me to suspend disbelief and accept that this is “found footage” and not two actors.
But let me stress that I am a tough customer when it comes to being scared by film. My first viewing of Blair Witch did it, Session 9 did it and in some ways, so did PA. So while I may not have been as affected by this film as others seem to be, it is refreshing to see filmmakers like Peli go the less-is-more approach and show that a big-budget and elaborate special-effects are not needed to make a scary movie. Watching through the camera lens as Katie stands in place in the middle of the night, staring at Micah as he slept, was far more scarier and effective than a zombie’s head exploding or a maniac slitting the throat of his victim. Things actually do go bump in the night, and it is something we have all experienced laying scared in your bed at some point in your lifetime but instead of attributing these sounds to a settling house or a noisy pipe, PA will undoubtedly have some of its viewers laying in bed at night thinking of the sinister shadow slinking in the corner, or preparing for cold fingers reaching up from under the bed to lightly caress their cheek in the darkness. For that I give Paranormal Activity three-and-half door slams in the middle of the night, out of five.
I would also like to note how interesting this is about to be for horror movie lovers. PA has obviously struck a chord with audiences, and because of that the ultra low-budget film will now going up against The Stepfather remake and the sixth entry into the Saw franchise. Personally, regardless of how much I liked the film, that pleases me greatly and I hope it slaughters them both. So what did you think of PA? Was it as scary as the commercials led you to believe? Also, anyone want to make any bets on if it out performs the horror remake and the horror sequel on the 16th?
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