#68 Paranormal Activity

(2007, Oren Peli)

“You’re not in control, it is in control”

This is one of very few movies that I’ve reviewed that can be summed up very easily in a quick sentence. Two people experience supernatural phenomena and decide to film it, resulting in 90 minutes of them jumping at loud noises.

Of course, to sum it up so easily also misses the point of why the film is so good. Told entirely through the use of “found-footage”, ie, footage shot entirely by the characters and supposedly “discovered” later on by those investigating the incident, we follow several days in the life of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat (named for their actors) as they are tormented by…something. When the movie starts, the hauntings have already started and Micah has decided to start filming the mysterious things that have been happening on a brand new camera. And so everything we see is everything he captured on film.

Of course, the advantage of using found-footage as a technique is that it plays off the truly effective horror idea that “nothing is scarier than nothing at all”. A good chunk of the movie takes place with static shots of the couple’s bedroom with the only action being the odd noise or lights turning on and off. Doesn’t sound scary? Ever been alone in the house at night alone and heard weird noises, causing your imagination to run riot? That’s basically the premise of this movie. We don’t see anything, meaning we’re forced to let our imagination fill in the gaps. And of course, our imaginations can always conjure up things a million times more terrifying than anything a movie director can dump in front of us.

It’s not perfect though. Truthfully, the plot is non-existent, and the film does occasionally feel disjointed as a result. Everything feels improvised, as if a bunch of people spent a weekend in a house and decided to play around with a video camera. Admittedly, that is kind of what happened, although it was actually a week. And yes, there is the fact that the unstructured nature of the movie makes it feel a little more realistic, as if it genuinely is a couple messing about with a camera, but still, things do leap around a little too much, and the lack of answers contributes to the haphazard plotting.

The characterisation’s a little sloppy at times too. Micah in particular can sometimes come across as an insufferable jackass, and some of the couple’s interactions as the movie progresses become a little awkward. It’s especially jarring when they start discussing the strange activity in paranormal terms straight off the bat, rather than trying to come up with rational explanations more often. In the beginning, however, the couple’s relationship to each other feels more natural, which is a plus.

But Paranormal Activity does achieve what it set out to do. It’s made a realistic-feeling horror movie that relies more on tense periods of nothing over cheap scares or gore. And many of its flaws can be chalked up to its inexperienced director or even as a stylistic choice based on its genre. Its sequel adds immensely to the experience though, so I’d recommend that as a companion to this.

Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Frederichs, Amber Armstrong & Ashley Palmer
Written by Oren Peli
Produced by Jason Blum & Oren Peli
Cinematography and editing by Oren Peli

Favourite Scene: Katie gets out of bed. Probably doesn’t sound like an amazing scene, but it makes sense in context
Scene That Bugged Me: “So what do you do?” “I’m a student, and Micah’s a day trader” Then how the hell do you afford that luxurious house?!

Watch it if: Creepy night noises terrify you
Avoid it if: You’re expecting a non-stop thrill ride

Originally posted on Blogspot Friday 16 March 2012

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Posted on April 15, 2012, in 2000s, Horror. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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