REVIEW: Paranormal Activity

10 10 2009

Fear is a common emotion, and filmmakers constantly work to goad it out of us.  The horror genre is most likely to instigate the aforementioned sentiment, and directors often resign to employing quick thrills and flashy graphics to force it out of us.  But with four actors, one camera, and $10,000, Oren Peli has shown that fear can be found in even the most ordinary places.  He conceived “Paranormal Activity” out of his own fear, stating,

“I think a lot of people can relate to the question of what happens at night when you’re most vulnerable.  You have no idea what’s going on.  This taps into the most primal fear, if something is lurking in your home and there’s not much you can do about it.”

Peli’s vision of horror is nothing short of brilliant, finding the surreal in the real and the paranormal in the normal.  The result is a truly terrifying experience for audiences.

The story revolves around the haunting of couple “engaged to be engaged” Micah and Katie.  We enter the story in medias res as they are beginning to deal with the suspicious incidents occurring in their home.  A psychic tells them that the culprit is most likely a demon that has followed Katie since childhood and something has occurred to aggravate the spirit.  Although Micah laughs off the opinion, Katie is deeply bothered and scared.  Micah purchases an expensive camera set in hopes of capturing the demon on film, and the entire movie is told from the vantage point of the camera lens.  As the days go by, events seem to point towards the validity of the psychic’s opinion.  But will the camera capture anything other than a distraught and disturbed couple?

Perhaps the scariest part of “Paranormal Activity” is its plausibility.  Every aspect of the movie makes you feel like this could very well be a documentary, not merely a work of fiction.  The entire movie was shot on a handheld camera with less than superb picture quality and no cinematography other than the shaking of the person holding it.  The dialogue flows very naturally; Peli cunningly wrote an outline of the script rather than actual dialogue in order to emulate real conversation.   Instead of hitting the audience with constant ploys for screams, he focuses on how the characters react to the terror taking place in their house, which is every bit as terrifying as any other moment in the movie.

The true triumph of “Paranormal Activity” is Peli’s removal the veil separating the audience from the characters and, in essence, throwing us right in the movie with them.  He shows that a slow plot build can be infinitely more unnerving than an instant of fear.  Peli creates more than just a movie with a few scary moments; he provides an unsettling ambience that will get your heart pumping, stomach churning, and body sweating.  And the scariest part of all is that the feeling doesn’t stay in the theater – it follows you home.

Just brace yourselves: “Paranormal Activity” will become a cultural phenomenon.  The viral marketing of the movie alone has proved a star as over a million people demanded it to come to their town.  It is entirely conceivable that it will surpass box office grosses of movies with budgets ten thousand times larger than its own.  While the studio executives scratch their heads on that statistic, it will have a very beneficial ripple effect on the filmmaking community in general.  Young filmmakers with a dream and a good story but without a major financier will no doubt be inspired by the success of the movie.  After the unexpected success of “Paranormal Activity,” studios are going to be looking for the next low-budget hit among these filmmakers.  Hopefully, they will find plenty of high-caliber movies to fill the theater near you.  There’s nothing scary about that, is there?  A- / 3halfstars

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One response

19 10 2009
Aiden R

Really good review, man. And I agree with you, I really like that you don’t see the demon itself, that it’s only alluded to in a way instead of shoving it in your face like Hostel or something. It’s a smart horror movie and works well with so few resources in ways that a lot of big time horror movies don’t. But still, that boyfriend was a jackass. Love the site and thanks for writing on mine. Keep it up.

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