Paranormal Activity (2007)

Directed By: Oren Peli
Written By: Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherston
  Micah Sloat
Paranormal Activity

Made two years ago by first time writer/director Oren Peli and only now granted a release, Paranormal Activity is a movie that’s come straight from the Blair Witch School Of Shoestring Filmmaking. Comparisons to The Blair Witch Project are inevitable but not completely unfounded as both movies used hand-held cameras, both had completely unknown, freshman actors making up the cast and both were made for less than $20,000 and went on to amass millions in profits. Regrettably, Paranormal Activity also shares the fact that it’s a movie that, after the initial viewing, loses all of its effectiveness.

The story centres around a couple; Katie and Micah, and the action takes place exclusively in their home at night time (Peli’s own house) via a hand-held or mounted video camera. Katie has long suspected that she’s been haunted since she was a child but it seems that the supernatural being that has taken a bit of a shine to her is getting more and more ornery with each passing day. It might be a simple story but it’s also a terrifying premise. A haunted house is one thing but the more cynical audiences of today are likely to respond with “well, move house then“. Problem solved. It’s not so easy to escape the threat when the paranormal being in question chooses to haunt the person and not their abode.

Paranormal Activity relies entirely upon the pair of lead actors’ ability to summon a convincing performance and the effectiveness of the mounting tension created by the supernatural events that occur whilst they sleep. For the most part, the movie is able to pull off both. Unfortunately however, it’s just not enough.

The acting is fairly authentic and organic for the most part but there are times when it’s painfully obvious that these are strangers brought together for the purposes of playing their parts and not a believable real-life couple, most notably towards the end. The most irritating aspect though, and the one that affects the overall experience the most, is that neither of them are very likeable. For the audience to want to enter their World, share their horrifying encounter and therefore be a part of a satisfying horror experience, they must also want to relate to the characters and therein lies the problem. That’s not to say the actors are at fault though, I think this is more likely to be to do with the direction they were given.

The film is almost entirely devoid of gore effects, as one would expect in a traditional, grass-roots type haunting movie but the paranormal effects are executed admirably. There are many effectively chilling moments that are a testament to what can be done with a little ingenuity, despite the massive budgetary constraints. As commendably realised as these scenes are however, the scenes in the interim, which follow the couples struggle during the daytime as they contemplate what might be in store for them the next time they slumber, are less than compelling. When it’s good, it’s really good but when it’s bad, it’s snooze-o-rama time.

At times Paranormal Activity is an efficiently nerve-jangling movie that delves deep into the human psyche and forces the audience to ask the question “just what happens when you sleep?” but at others, is an uninteresting look into the lives of two fairly odious people as they are subjected to a laughable series of fearsome events. It’s this imbalance that may affect the viewing experience for many, like it did for me. Either way, it’s the kind of movie that will encourage debate between lovers of the genre and most likely split audiences down the middle into ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ groups and that’s no bad thing. Be sure to catch it on the big screen though as this is one flick that almost certainly benefits from the authentic cinema experience and will likely lose some of its value on the small screen.

Rating: ★★★★★½☆☆☆☆

6 Comments on “Paranormal Activity”

  1. Chris says:

    I liked Katie, she was very watchable – she has tremendous, erm, assets.

    • admin says:

      Impressive chesticles aside, I found her a bit weak. Her reactions were underwhelming and Micah was a bit of an antagonistic arsehole. Still, I didn’t hate the movie, I hoped that came across in the review. I just think heralding it as the second coming as most people have been doing, is misleading.

  2. Louise M says:

    I enjoyed this film, and the moment with the foot pulling actually gave me chills. It’s up there with the lift scene in The Eye, and the TV scene in the original Ring, for that awful, bone grating sensation of horror. However, I did spend the movie shouting at the screen: “For gods sake woman, hurry up and stab your man already.” If my bloke behaved like that, I wouldn’t have to wait for supernatural possession.

    Do. Not. Taunt. Demonic. Forces. In. My. Home.

    And empty the dishwasher.

  3. Phil Taberner says:

    I actually really liked Paranormal Activity. I think I find that now that I’ve become so desensitized to horror movies in general, ones that do provoke a large emotional response (as this did) I tend to adore.

    It might not have been the greatest film character- or plot-wise, but it had tension by the bucketful and that’s why I loved it so much; because each time night fell my eyes were scanning the screen frantically trying to spot the first manifestation of the demon. Plus, it’s great to see a film where the scares are so simply done yet so effective.

    • Sarah Law says:

      See, maybe I’ve become TOO desensitized to horror then as this only provoked frustration from me. I really do think that a lot of what they did was effectively frightening but I still went straight home, turned the light off, went straight to bed and didn’t give it a second though….

  4. The Scullion says:

    I enjoyed Paranormal Activity, but the characters were lacking any depth or likeability. Micah was a dumb, arrogant tosspot and Katie was annoyingly paranoid throughout. There was no sense of humour. I was praying for the psychic guy to come back, as he was the only character who had any sense.

    It’s like The Blair Witch again – great premise, great moments / scenes, really frustrating characters.

    Still – there were some excellent scenes and the general construct of the film is brilliant. Probably never going to watch it again, though…

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