11.04.2009

Review: Paranormal Activity

I saw Paranormal Activity with my boyfriend, Ryan, on Halloween. I was completely freaked before the movie even began, simply because it was only the second "scary" movie I'd seen (the first was Darkness Falls). I liked it, though, so I wrote the following review for my high school newspaper...

Shot in one week on an $11,000 budget, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity has been surprisingly successful. While most horror movies these days are full of CGI, dead bodies and gallons of blood, this one is refreshingly simple. There are only four actors, one of whom doubles as a camera man for much of the film. The lines are mostly improvisation, which emphasizes the chemistry between the stars and gives Paranormal Activity a certain realism that many other movies in the genre lack.

In addition to directing, Peli wrote the screenplay. During filming, he simply gave the actors an idea of what would happen in the scene and had them ad-lib. The plot follows Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), a couple who is “engaged to be engaged” and has just moved in together. After numerous, nearly harmless incidents, such as flickering lights and footsteps on the stairs, Micah decides to buy a video camera to document what happens in their bedroom as they sleep. What results is a startling account of the couple’s fight against the demon that has been stalking Katie since her childhood.

The biggest complaint about documentary style movies (such as The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield) is that the lack of steadiness of the camera gives viewers headaches. Although every bit of this movie is seen through Micah’s camera, complaints of headaches are not as common. The camera spends much of its time on a tripod, focused on the same static shot: Micah and Katie sleeping on the right and their open door, with a view of the hallway, on the left. It is through this door that most of the action happens.

With a lack of gore or serial killers, Paranormal Activity utilizes pure suspense as its main scare tactic. Each time Micah and Katie get ready for bed, everyone in the theater begins to hold his or her breath, waiting to see what the demon will do that night. A clock in the corner fast-forwards and then stops when something is about to happen. At first, the occurrences aren’t particularly scary, but they progress as the movie comes to a close. It doesn’t help that Micah continues to taunt the entity, even after Katie’s insistence that he is making things worse.

This is not a horror movie in the normal sense of the phrase. There is no creepy stalker or mutated murderer. The most you see of Katie’s attacker is its footprints, formed from baby powder sprinkled across the floor. This gives the viewer no image to dwell over, but rather an idea. Instead of going to bed picturing a face, one tries to fall asleep while hoping that his or her blankets won’t be ripped off the bed inexplicably. Peli’s psychological approach to horror makes his movie one that lasts in the viewers’ minds.

Paranormal Activity is definitely a movie that is better in theaters. Being among a crowd heightens the experience of the suspense; having a friend to grab onto when something crashes or a door slams is essential. This is one to see with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Though there are some slow parts (many of the daytime scenes don’t contain much action), those parts are necessary to let the audience calm down a little. This film has an intriguing, exciting premise and convincing tension. It’s a must see for horror lovers, as well as those just looking for a little scare.

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