Director: Oren Peli
Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Plot: When Katie begins to fear she is being watched by something demonic, her boyfriend buys a camcorder to track the mystery entity’s movements.
Paranormal Activity has been one of the most hyped horror movies of recent years. The movie was made by Oren Peli with no budget and a simplicity that lacks in a lot of horror movies out there. Inspired by the Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity is a cornerstone of the horror genre and has spawned several sequels. Finally, I have got around to watching it.
Oren Peli goes for a realistic feel and he definitely gets that. While the naming of the characters after the actual actors to get across the true story vibe feels a little forced (no one buys that anymore), the more subtle strokes of reality hit home. The found footage element genuinely works here, making the entire movie feel like a behind-the-scenes clip or a home movie. It helps that Peli doesn’t ever try to tackle any of the tried and tested found footage tricks. Rarely are we frustrated at an obscure angle of the demons; in fact, for a lot of the shots, the found footage is very fixed and static. Most of the scares are condensed into a single frame, putting that movie into a loop of horror. There is something eerily predictable and certain about the scares in this film: they are inevitable. The documentary feel is always present. Most films like this open with the documentary style, like [.Rec], but drop it as soon as the horrors kick in. Paranormal Activity feels like a home movie from start to finish. This does mean that we are treated to several slower moments, as the couple mope around the house, discussing the night before or just being a couple. I understand that this slowly builds the tension and the mundane is the key to making Paranormal Activity as effective as it is, but there are moments when you wish that something would just happen.
Then again, the dullness of some scenes make the action much more effective. As we are treated to the same shot of the couple in bed for the third time in the row, we are lulled into a false sense of security. The horror is building and taking its time, after all. But then a sudden noise, or a bang, will erupt and we are left jumping out of our skin. There is no music to help us predict where the next spooky moment is coming from, so even when nothing happens, we are still effectively scared. The sound-scaping is very precise, making the smallest of creaks ten times scarier than they have any right to be. Less is definitely more. Saying that, I never felt as terrified as the fans made out I would be. Paranormal Activity is more of a skin-crawling watch. As the mystery and sinister edge dials up a notch, you will be turning in your seat, as the next trick is pulled out from a sleeve. The sense of dread that hangs over the whole movie is akin to a knife slowly stroking your spine, goosebumps bursting out on the nape of your neck. No, perhaps Paranormal Activity never takes advantage of the petrified state of mind their viewers are subject to, although we could argue that the movie is much more effective, when the pay-off never comes. There is one final moment of horror, right at the end of the movie, but we could argue that it is a fairly cheap shot. However, no one can deny its effectiveness at making the audience let out a tiny scream.
Therefore, with the jumps minimal, it is up to the two leads to hold the film together throughout its slower beats. One could argue that they are the tools of the director. With little plot, surely these characters just go through the motions with the terrified girl, going through demonic possession and her boyfriend, unable to wrap his head around the concept of the supernatural. However, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat are very good with the small amount of material they are given to work. They are very likeable, instantly reminding you of the good-natured people you might know from around town. By the time you are halfway through the movie, you just want things to work out for them. Micah might end up going down as one of the worst boyfriends to have in a horror movie, but his character never doesn’t make sense. I liked how he might have got in the way of the solution a lot of the time, but it came across as the character, trying to take matters into his own hands, unable to stand back and leave the demon alone. After all, men by nature aren’t happy with solving the problem by doing nothing. It made the camera and found footage feel natural, rather than out of place. When the two characters start fighting, it didn’t feel irritating as most horror movie couples end up coming across as, but an outburst of fear that they have been experiencing over the course of the movie. Above all else, they are actually quite cute together. If we are going to be spending the next hour and a half with them, we might as well like them. One moment sees them arguing in bed, but the camera jumps forward in time to them, snuggled up with one another. Subtle, but cute, playing to the hidden romantic in this critic’s heart.
Final Verdict: While it is a slow watch and not outright terrifying, Paranormal Activity boasts a sense of dread rarely utilised in modern horrors.