PARANORMAL ACTIVITY – An Off the Cuff Review
Mr. E Horror - wrote on 11/05/09
As a purveyor of opinions of all things horror, I should be ashamed of myself for taking this long to see Paranormal Activity. I’ve finished watching the film only fifteen minutes ago, but I feel as though I should write without laying all of my ideas out and try to draw from the visceral fear that I am still experiencing. I am very impressed with the film overall. The scariest stuff is what is happening off screen, and it is scary. For a movie with a $15,000 budget and a barely discernable plot to be as effective as it is in scaring audiences, one must wonder what it is about the film that makes it frightening.
The context the movie resides within is very conducive to moody atmospheres from monochromatic night shots and the chaotic camera movement. These elements provide the perfect combination for inexpensive yet effective scares. Many of the startling aspects of the film do not come from the visiting demon, who often provides rhythmic, consistent footsteps, but from the couple whose jumping and screaming and running through the house with a shoulder cam creates wonderful tension. The movie succeeds in continually building tension without really letting too much dissipate between scenes. Again, the context fits perfectly with this scenario because the movie is simply about the effects of a demon becoming worse and worse on the lives of a young couple. It stands to reason that the tension would increase continuously.
Another aspect that makes it effective is the ordinariness of the two protagonists. The guy isn’t great to look at, and at times can be a bit of a douchebag. The female lead is ordinary enough to be anyone. She is pigeon-toed and has cellulite. She is real, and I commend Katie Featherston for her portrayal of Katie. These two could be any of us. There isn’t the comfortable distance or disconnectedness that there is when the stars are Megan Fox and Brad Pitt. It is much easier for me to see myself in the PA duo than anyone outrageously beautiful.
These two people meandering through their fairly ordinary lives have their privacy and their safety invaded by a demon. It is important that it is a demon and not a ghost—the film makes this distinction overt—because there is no escaping it. It is attached to Katie, and it will follow wherever she goes. This demon resides within the house. Micah sets the window and door alarms to provide safety, but, of course, these measures only work with corporeal beings, not the paranormal. There are no measures they can take to keep themselves safe. Though they try throughout (Micah with his camera and technology, Katie with her experts), nothing works. It is in the ways that each character chooses for safety that we see conflict between Micah and Katie. The film, however, is saying that neither of them is right. It’s a f’ing demon! It can do as it pleases.
There is only brief mention of the occupation being her fault, and the idea of Micah leaving Katie never comes up. To Oren Peli’s credit, the dialogue is very paired down, and anything that could complicate the barely-there plot is missing. Where there could easily be religious subtext, there is none. From the beginning to the end it is Micah and Katie—as a fairly united front—against the demon. There are no detours into questions of sanity. This film is a straight up haunt flick. Mr. Peli seems to have made all the right choices. Seeing such tremendous success from such a small budget gives film geeks who have always wanted to make there own films, like me, hope. Maybe I’ll give up this teaching gig, sell my Honda and make the next indie horror sensation. Top drawer.