Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Paranormal Activity
[Check out our Paranormal Activity 2 review]
Paranormal Activity is a little film that was reportedly made for $11,000 over the course of a seven-day shoot by writer/director/producer/editor Oren Peli, and stars newbies Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat and the couple’s camcorder.
The ghost story is pretty straightforward: Katie and Micah (the actors use their real names in the film) are a young couple who have been together for about a year or two and have recently taken the plunge of moving in together. Soon after, they begin to experience weird paranormal activity taking place in their home – lights and sinks turning on and off, doors slamming, etc. Katie soon reveals that this isn’t the first time she’s been “haunted by ghosts” – when she was 8, she had re-occurring visits from a shadowy apparition and her family’s home was eventually burned to the ground without explanation. Since then, the apparition has followed Katie wherever she goes, “visiting” her from time to time, up to the present. Micah wishes that Katie had told him all this BEFORE they moved in together.
Katie is freaking out about the reappearance of her ghostly stalker, but Micah (of course) is too MANLY to believe in such nonsense, so he invests in a top-grade camera, some top-grade mini microphones and sound recording software, in order to wire the house for a ghost-hunting experiment. Our POV is that of the camcorder and boom mic, as they record the paranormal happenings taking place in Katie and Micha’s home over the course of about three weeks.
That’s the setup, and it would be hard to go much deeper without dropping some major SPOILERS.
I can tell you that Katie and Micah bring in a psychic (Michael Bayouth) who determines that what they’re facing isn’t a ghost trying to establish communication, but rather a malevolent demon, hell bent (pun intended) on claiming Katie’s soul. The psychic tells Katie and Micah that they need to bring in a “demonologist” to help exorcise the evil spirit – only the guy is currently vacation, so they’ll have to wait it out. In the meantime, the psychic breaks down a few demon rules for the couple (and us) to understand:
- There is no running from it – leave the house and the spirit will only follow.
- The spirit feeds off negative energy (anger, fear, etc).
- Don’t do ANYTHING to enrage or attract the demon – especially buying a Ouija Board.
Of course, if you’ve ever seen a horror movie before you know that the rules are only there to be broken by doomed fools. Katie is all nervousness and pragmatism (“Honey, let’s just stop and ask for directions…”), but Micah, the skeptic, would rather “man-up” and handle things his own way (read: pacing the house, challenging the evil spirit to show itself). Smart idea.
The best horror movies are the ones that exploit our deep-seated anxieties about real-life events or situations. The Exorcist was every parent’s worst nightmare: their innocent child suffering a terrible affliction; Rosemary’s Baby played upon the high-anxiety of pregnancy and child-rearing; Hitchcock’s Psycho gleefully exploited the near-universal fear of random, unprovoked violence. Paranormal Activity will stand out for a long time in my mind (and I’m sure others) because it hits just the right panic buttons inside the brain: the familiar fear of the creaky, empty house at night – but more importantly, the high-anxiety of being in a relationship.
The latter theme is only subtly touched on, due to the nature of the POV (it would’ve stupid to have the couple record their dramatic fight moments), but that current is always on and running, coursing through the cinematic subtext. Anybody you partner with in life is bound to come with baggage – Katie’s baggage just so happens to be a freaky demon. Micah is portrayed as something of an alpha-male stereotype – brash and insensitive a lot of the time, you know the picture – but also as a guy who is genuinely trying to help his chick sort out all of the crazy in her past, so they can be happy together in the present. And, like real-life relationships, sometimes the best intentions…
Of course we have to address the filmmaking techniques and the issue of the “shaky cam” POV. People have heard the concept for this film and worried that they were going to get another Blair Witch Project (too boring) or Cloverfield (seizure inducing camerawork). Paranormal Activity is only short one star for me because the pacing for the first half-hour of its 99 min run time was kind of slow, and offered more creepy atmosphere than actual scares. A slow half-hour in camcorder POV can feel like an eternity – luckily for us, Featherston and Sloat are good actors, with good chemistry, and they, along with Peli, manage to establish an air of almost total authenticity. Katie and Micah’s home looks and feels like MY home and their relationship seems so genuine and natural (even the way girl and boy treat the watchful eye of the camera differently ;-) ) that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a movie, and not actual home video footage. And since there are tripods set up around the house, shaky cam wasn’t really much of an issue. When the actors ARE holding the camera, every swipe and turn has you nervous that something is lurking just beyond the peripheral of the lens light.
The authentic feel is really the selling point of this film. It exploits enough realistic common ground to make it feel personal (who HASN’T heard that strange sound echo through their home now and again, or woken up to the feeling that somebody is standing over them?), and since few of us actually sleep with a running camcorder in our bedrooms, who’s to say we AREN’T being visited in the night by something evil?
Paranormal Activity succeeds in taking our most relaxed and intimate moments – at home, cuddled up with our loved one(s) – and transforms those moments into sources of high anxiety and fear. I’ve been with my girlfriend for eight years now (I know, I know), and after we came home from the screening last night we were definitely creeped out – and not just by the creaky floorboards in our apt. We glared at one another through squinted eyes up until bedtime, wondering about any skeletons (no pun) hiding in the other person’s closet, or mentally comparing Katie and Micah’s emotional trial to the real-life instances where one of us had to help the other through a crazy circumstance. I’m sure we both slept with one eye open.
If you haven’t read about it on our site, Paranormal Activity has become something of a phenomenon in the movie industry, ever since Paramount chose NOT to remake it into a big-budget studio flick. As Paramount Film Group President Adam Goodman told us before the screening (and I’m paraphrasing), “This is the future of the movie business, right here…good films by visionary filmmakers made for next to nothing…It can be done these days.” I suspect this film will be successful in its grass roots efforts – especially after I watched hundreds of eager line-waiters get turned away from the door. People want to see this film – if not in theaters, then certainly the masses will eat it up on DVD. However, I hope it gets the support it deserves, as it is certainly theater-worthy.
Paranormal Activity is currently doing a “You Demand It!” release campaign: If you want the film to play at your local theater, get some friends together online, go to THIS SITE and cast your vote.
Just don’t be mad at me if you’re too scared to go to sleep that night…