Archive for October, 2009

Review: “Paranormal Activity”

Way back in 1999, The Blair Witch Project hit theatres and soon became one of the most successful independent films of all time.  Not only did it prove that all you need was a good idea (or at the very least, a good gimmick) for a movie to be a hit, but it also showcased a new way to advertise.  Instead of spending millions of dollars solely on print, tv, and radio ads, a few tech-savvy people can use the internet for all their marketing purposes.

I remember watching this movie in the theatre with my parents, which turned out to be a bad idea because the movie freaked my mom out so bad she got mad at my dad and I for bringing her to watch it.  Of course, there would be other downsides, such as the inevitable copycat films and the rise of the  gimmicky ‘found video’ subgenre of thrillers.

Enter 2006, and another independent filmmaker has an idea similar to Blair Witch.  Instead of the woods, however, our characters would suffer in their own house.  And instead of a mysterious witch that would mess with you psychologically, writer/director Oren Peli will toss in a demon bent on destroying our protagonists, both physically and emotionally.

The movie starts out obviously enough: a young San Diego couple experiences paranormal activity in their home at night.  To assuage her fears, the boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) decides to use a camera and audio recorder to prove to her that the sounds she hears at night are normal.  The girlfriend, Katie (Katie Featherston), is uneasy with this at first, but decides to humor him.  It’s all fun and games until Micah captures evidence on camera that proves there’s something else in the house with them.

I won’t give away all the crazy stuff, as that will ruin all the fun of this movie.  I will say, however, that I had an idea going into the theatre of how the paranormal activity will escalate (start small, end big).  I was partially wrong, as we see during the first night of recording the demon inside the house makes its presence known by more obvious means than just closing and opening a door.

There is also a bit of a story to go with the frights.  Katie’s backstory is explained through dialogue, as it relates very much to the events going on in the house.  Unfortunately, the acting isn’t always up to snuff.  Well, to be more specific, there were times where I was questioning the motivation of the actors.  In some situations, where I would’ve been either absolutely terrified or raging mad, we get somewhat neutral reactions.  Sure, the characters are upset, but given the recorded evidence of an evil spirit stalking around the house, I’d be more than just upset.

Sprinkled throughout the movie are moments of tension-relieving humor.  This definitely isn’t a comedy, but Katie and Micah do a good job of poking fun at their situation, at least in the early stages of the film.  As the story progresses, it stops becoming funny when even skeptical Micah knows somethings is genuinely wrong with his house.

What I found actually pretty interesting was how this movie followed certain rules.  Not necessarily rules of the horror genre, but other ‘real world’ rules.  If you read about reported cases of hauntings or possession, you’ll notice that they usually follow a certain set of rules.  For example, your house may be haunted, but that doesn’t mean the entity doing the haunting is malevolent; it might be that the spirit is ‘lost’ or something like that.  In cases of possession, the victim is almost never possessed outright, they’re always ‘haunted’ for long periods of time, sometimes years in an effort to break down the will of the victim.  While this film takes place over the course of a few weeks, we clearly see the deteriorated state our victims fall into by the end.

If you’ve seen the trailer, then you know this movie can elicit a response from the audience.  During my showing, it most certainly did.  Nearly every scene where we watch Micah’s camera rolling, the audience became more and more nervous.  Once the moments of sheer terror had passed, we all laughed amongst ourselves, but it wasn’t a haughty, prideful laugh like “Oh, that was so stupid I can’t believe we jumped at that!”.  It was more like a a nervous tension kind of laugh, like no one was truly ready to admit that they were absolutely terrified 30 seconds ago.

If there’s any glaring downside to this film, it’s some of the decisions of the characters.  In one scene, they meet a psychic who tells them that this is no normal house haunting; in fact it’s not even haunting a house, it’s haunting them.  He tells them that moving away won’t solve anything, and that they must fight to reclaim their home.  Now, Micah gets all macho and tries to fix the problem himself, but nothing works, it just gets worse.  At that point, person of faith or not, I’d tell them they need to get a priest, rabbi, imam or whoever and bless the snot out of that house.  To be honest, they do absolutely nothing to help themselves, they just make the entity angrier.

Paranormal Activity is one of those movies that proves theatres aren’t dead.  Watching a movie like this on a smaller screen (even on impressive home theatre setups) probably won’t be the same.  You may go in as a skeptic, or a non-believer of any form of life beyond our own death.  But, once you’re packed into a room with about 300 other strangers, all experiencing the same thing, it changes you.  I’m not saying you could walk in an atheist and come out a born-again Christian, I’m just saying that you just might feel a bit on edge every time Katie and Micah turn out the lights at night.

It’s almost as if this movie itself is alive and feeding off our own fears.  I remember, when I was younger, my friends and I daring each other to record ourselves sleeping.  I refused to do it simply because of the ‘What If’.  What if I saw something on the tape that I didn’t want to see?  What if I did see shadows appearing on the wall, doors opening and closing, our the obvious sound of footsteps getting closer and closer to my bed?

The fear of the unknown is what makes us want to keep our lights on at night (at least when we were children), and Paranormal Activity not only shows you what’s in the shadows, but makes you wish you never wanted to look in the first place.



October 6, 2009 at 12:20 pm Leave a comment

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