Following in the footsteps of homemade successes such as The Blair Witch Project, this is one low-budget flick that packs quite a horrific punch.
The film begins with Micah bringing a video camera into his suburban home. His long-term girlfriend Katie has complained of strange noises in the night, hinting at an otherworldly presence, and he hopes to capture such moments in order to get to the bottom of the disturbances. Katie is less than impressed, but goes along with his plan. What follows is a pretty regular pattern of day/night, day/night. Nighttime is of course when all the spooky stuff happens, and Paranormal Activity is wonderfully restrained in this department. Though they start out subtly, the scares escalate until we reach some truly classic scenes.
The reason this film works so well is for three reasons. Firstly, here is a terror to which most people can relate. Everyone’s got the wiggins after hearing strange noises in the house at night, even if only in their younger years. Rather than concerning itself with people trapped in the woods, this is about the sanctuary of one’s home being threatened (keep in mind that the scariest moment in The Blair Witch Project was inside a house, also).
Secondly, Paranormal Activity features some wonderfully old-fashioned smoke and mirrors type trickery. There are no expensive special effects to get in the way of the horror. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of horror films that start out creepy but end up trading scares for fancy prosthetics or CGI. Many will be pleased to know that whilst this is all from a perspective of a handicam, very little of the cinematography is handheld, so there’s no need to fear the motion sickness felt in Blair Witch and Cloverfield.
Finally, the script is actually quite intelligent. All the usual questions that come up when watching characters in such a predicament (why don’t they just leave? Why are they going to investigate the spooky noise?) are actually given the recognition they deserve and answered. The protagonist, Micah, is a fantastic analysis of the typical male response to unfathomable problems presented by his partner. He wants to fix them. He wants to do something. Time and again, Katie begs Micah to let things be but he can’t do that. His love for Katie manifests in assuming a fairly traditional role of protector. It’s his duty. Their relationship is given life perfectly by the two performers. Considering that the film contains, for the most part, only two characters, Featherstone and Sloat do an excellent job at a: making us like them, and b: making us concerned for their predicament.
Paranormal Activity is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen in a while. The only recent film I can think of that was this successful at being frightening was The Strangers and, to a lesser extent, The Orphanage. You’ll find yourself staring into the shadows for much of this film, anxiously awaiting the arrival of something horrible. Let’s hope that Oren Peli does something impressive with his success, rather than slipping into obscurity like Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, the creators of Blair Witch.Rating: