Original title: Paranormal Activity
Director: Oren Peli
Scenario: Oren Peli
Actors: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs
Distribution: Paramount Pictures
Duration: 1 h 26
Genre: Home-Made Horror
Ever since The Blair Witch Project (1999) was released, and subsequently paved the way for the shaky-cam, “first person” way of filmmaking, horror film buffs have been divided and unsettled. Amongst the ever-growing catalogue of these frightening found-footage films—most of which have been influenced by the cinéma véritéstyle— Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity (2007) is the scariest so far. However, after Blair Witch, there remains a trick when it comes to displaying the horror in this low-budget kind of way. There are only two ways in which you could approach this kind of horror movies. You might say, ”Great, I will definitely go watch that,” or you may think, ”No way, I will not be tricked again”. As a horror fan(atic), I went and I watched it again (because the first time around I was under the very heavy influence of sir Alcohol and even hallucinated two different endings). Now I can say with a clear conscience that I would rather spend a night in Freddy Krueger’s house (A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), playing video games with Jason (from the (in)famous Friday the 13th (1980)), than stay for even a minute in Paranormal protagonists Katie and Micah’s haunted house. Or maybe I’m just growing old and more easily scared.
Anyways, the main characters, Katie and Micah (played by Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat), live the perfect life. They are in a loving relationship and it seems that nothing can destroy this happiness. Alas! Not for long. Every night the unsuspecting couple is kept awake by a—let’s put it this way: slightly demonic poltergeist that shares their happy home and blah-blah all the trivial happy couple’s life-gone-very bad-because of a demon in the house-plot…
Determined to investigate the reason for these creepy vibes in their house, Micah decides to buy a very expensive video camera and record everything that happens. From this point onward, the story unfolds but, CAUTION *spoiler alert* their demonic housemate turns out to be very shy (!), because the more Micah and Katie record, the more brutal and spine-chilling the events become.
For a low budget production (only $15 000, approx.), Paranormal Activity is very well made. In comparison to other similar films, for one, this film features no cheap horror effects, and there is no sign of that famous Hollywood gelatin-blood; you know, the gutty-stuff that looks like it would taste good with your morning coffee and toast. Whilst this film is often berated, moreover, from a technical standpoint, the film is actually quite excellent. The hand-held camera effect intertwines brilliantly with the fact that, to Micah, the paranormal activities are more of a game than life-threatening events. However, this is not the same for his girlfriend Katie. Her behavior represents the other side of the story: the terror, the sleepless nights, and the demons.
Moving on to what I found to be an extremely enjoyable trick the film plays on you: or, as I shall call it, “The Cunning Exploitation of Your Anticipation” trick. You experience every paranormal activity that occurs in the house; and yet, you are still kept waiting. The suspense builds up simultaneously with the level of brutality at each event. Every time Katie and Micah go to bed and the time-lapse on the recording stops you will shrink, and gasp, and scream. The soundtrack—or, rather, the lack of soundtrack—adds to this constant unnerving anticipation of a demonic presence. Nothing is more terrifying than a silence in which you can hear the whimpered breath of those in the seat beside you over your pounding heart.
Even though the movie sparked a lot of controversy among moviegoers and film critiques (including me, the first time I (almost) saw it) and invited comments like “ridiculous underlying concept,” “slow and utterly boring” from critics, Paranormal Activity, with its horrific events depicted in a realistic manner and the great cinematography produced by a very shaky cam—made all the more impressive by the financial constraints of the film—is intrinsically disturbing. It will make you cringe to every noise for a long, long time.