Paranormal Activity

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Katie and Micah have a problem.  There are things in their suburban San Diego tract home that go bump in the night.  Micah decides to get himself an expensive “pro-sumer” video camera to see if he can catch the source of the disturbances on video.  The entire movie is told from the point of view of Micah’s shiny new camera.  This where the fun begins.

The movie begins as a pot of banality that is slowly brought to a raging boil of horror  from which we take the hard boiled eggs of terror.  Later, we’ll make the deviled eggs of. . . erm. . . the devil?   This analogy broke down faster than my old Pontiac 6000.

Paranormal Activity has been hyped more than Hype Armstrong riding a hype-cycle in the Tour De Hype, while pumped full of hype enhancing hype-roids. It’s been touted as possibly the scariest movie ever made.  It was filmed on a shoestring budget and marketed in a rather unorthodox manner.  This sounds familiar, perhaps even, dare I say–  blair-ingly familiar.

Let’s get in the Wayback Machine and sent the controls for 1999. Here we find a younger Captain Midnight, with long ponytail, goatee and tabbed collar shirt, at the local multiplex watching what was supposed to be “The Scariest Movie Ever”.  Filmed on a shoestring budget, with a minimal script and the extra scary “shaky-cam,” The Blair Witch Project made huge amounts of money.  It wasn’t the scariest movie ever.  That honor goes to The Exorcist.

The Blair Witch Project was pretty good. It was certainly different from the horror films being put out by the mainstream studios.  The audience with whom I saw the movie was certainly frightened by it.

Later, I got The Blair Witch Project on DVD.  In the eight years that I’ve owned it, I’ve sat through it maybe twice. It doesn’t hold up well to repeated viewing.  The Exorcist, I’ve seen maybe a 167 times and it still makes my skin crawl a bit.  Paranormal Activity has been compared to The Blair Witch Project, and that comparison is more than fair.   The two movies are similar in many respects: small budget, unknown actors, unconventional marketing as mentioned above.   And I suspect that Paranormal Activity will not stand up to repeated viewing as well.

Paranormal Activity is very carefully paced.   Director/screenwriter Oren Peli wrings every bit of terror that he can get out of the resources available to him.   He has to confine the action to one location and confine the point of view to whomever is holding Micah’s new camera because he has no real budget.   Can he make a haunted house story that is believable in which the characters don’t just leave the house to escape the horror?   Peli manages it pretty well.

There aren’t too many moments when the main characters are totally witless.   Everything they do, for the most part is believable in the context of the characters.  The dialogue rings true, though  I think that there were several f-bombs added later to ensure an “R” rating because there is no nudity, graphic violence or “adult situations.”

The acting was well done and appropriate to the context of the story, this is particularly true of the two lead actors- Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat – who were both very compelling.  Overall though the budget was very small, you’d not know from watching it.  The movie never looks flimsy and cheap.

You’re probably wondering, “So, is it scary?”  Yeah. I’d say so.  The audience with whom I saw the movie screamed at all the right moments and laughed at all the right moments so the film hits all the right beats.   After the movie, on my way out of the theater I overheard a group of teenage boys talking about how freaked out they were by the various goings on in the movie.

All this from a movie with minimal special effects, and no real gore to speak of, shot entirely in one house on a budget of less than $20,000.  Up yours, Michael Bay.

Katie Featherson
Micah Sloat

Eli Peli

Eli Peli

four vincents out of five

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