Arts Desk

Reviewed: Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity
Directed by Oren Peli

Holy shit.

Disregard the gimmicky marketing of Paranormal Activity. Yes, it is a bit inspired, with Paramount releasing the film in only a handful of cities, shooting a trailer that captures an audience's reaction, and directing the unfortunate moviegoers who'd been left out to a Web site wherein they could “demand” it be brought to their town. Perhaps the studio really did tally the votes; more likely the plan was an old-fashioned slow rollout all along.

Either way, the buzz-building resulted in the late-night showings wedged into AMC Georgetown's schedule this past weekend selling out. (Even on Sunday!) And the bottom line is this: No amount of viral voodoo can sustain good box office if the movie sucks. (See: Watchmen.)

And Paranormal Activity definitely does not suck. It teases, it terrorizes, and it will burn images in your brain that will freak you the fuck out for days afterward.

The story involves a young couple who have recently moved in together. Katie and Micah (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, both believably natural) are attractive and happy, “engaged to be engaged.” Except for one problem: They suspect the presence of a supernatural being in the house, one that first started haunting Katie when she was 8. They consult a psychic (Michael Bayouth) but otherwise go DIY, buying a high-end video camera to record anything that might be going on while they sleep. Micah wants to goad the ghost into revealing itself to speed things along, but Katie is against the idea of even filming, afraid of making the situation worse. But the camera becomes a third character, capturing their discussion of the issue during the day and trained on their bed at night.

Paranormal Activity
, which first-time writer-director Oren Peli made for $11,000, has logically been compared to the game-changing Blair Witch Project. Found-footage mocumentaries are so 1999, though, and this approach is the film's biggest knock, with the “reality” of the situation highlighted with bobbing and weaving camerawork that gets nauseating fast. And really, what's the point of this is-it-real-or-is-it-Memorex ploy? Everyone knows this didn't really happen. And decades of horror films have proved that fiction can frighten quite effectively if done well.

Peli does it well. Most of the story actually takes place in pedestrian daylight, with Katie and Micah often quite funnily bickering about their options. Micah's sarcastic and cowboy about it, disagreeing with Katie's idea of bringing in a demonologist and saying, “This is my house, I'm going to solve the fucking problem, OK?” The audience sees only snippets of the nighttime footage, which always start out quiet but with a time-stamp eventually showing the fast-forward to moments of activity.

It begins with little things, a creak here and footsteps there. But the activity worsens and the suspense builds, leading you to automatically brace the moment you see the couple asleep with text noting the date and time. And stuff. Gets. Freaky. Without giving too much away, Peli knows from creepy, borrowing a bit from horror classics but also demonstrating how shriek-inducing a person simply standing next to a bed can be. There's no gore; there are no cheesy musical cues or cheap scares. It's all just skin-crawling — until things come to a head. And then you may wish that Paramount went for a more retro gimmick from the days of monster schlock: Staffing each screening with “nurses” who could tend to the light-headed and administer sedatives on your way out the door.

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  • Frank sanders

    Perfect review. I saw it last night and it was the best horror film since the exorcist. Scared the hell out of me. And I'm a big tattooed guy

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  • Jeff Hitchcock

    wow great review. I enjoy hearing heart and soul poured into a review. using certain adjectives and swear word where needed really gives a visceral experience.
    I cannot wait to see the movie. I remember seeing the Excorcist for the first time. I laughed at the first part of the movie but the second half scared the hell outta me. I couldn't get it out of my mind for weeks. I kept thinking intently about certain scenes and sounds. I am expecting something similiar with Paranormal Activity. .........wish me luck!.......great review!

  • http://none Jan

    Good review, minus the pointless cursing (and I curse often). In any case....this review sums up the movie well. I would add though, that more could have been done with the first 3/4 of the film with a little more thought.

  • Justin Moyer

    Fuck cursing.

  • Tkip

    I saw the movie last night.

    Liked it. Was overall good but I wasn't terrified. There were some genuine creepy moments but nothing that gave me nightmares last night.

    Sorry to disappoint but I actually slept soundly last, like a baby. Only creaking sounds I heard were from my roommate upstairs as she talked on the phone.

    My main beef with the movie was that completely over the top idiot of a boyfriend.

    No wonder that thing in the house was pissed off.

    This idiot was just begging for it with his overly macho taunting and unrealistic, nonchalant approach to putting the entity in its place and how he was a complete ass to his terrified girlfriend the whole time.

    I was quietly cheering for the demon at the end.

  • Dj Divergent

    Good review but come on. This was the worst movie I have seen in ages. I really don't understand what was so scary other than loud bangs, and stuff to "startle" you. Props to the guy that made for tricking a bunch of people into giving him money. But I literally about fell asleep during this movie. In my opinion Go see something.... ANYTHING else thats out right now.

  • Farah

    I don't believe in God, Demons, etc, but I cannot watch "The Exorcist" and sleep. That was the scariest movie I've ever seen, and this "film" isn't even a pimple on The Exorcist's *ss. Not even close.

    Just because people who are in the studio's pocket go online and claim it's scary doesn't mean it's true, just deceptive marketing.

    "Little Miss Sunshine" was scarier than this.

    Oh, and found footage is not "so 1999" ala the Blair Witch Project. It's so 1980, as in Cannibal Holocaust. Now there's a horror worth checking out.

    I think I saw a different movie.

  • paranormal activity

    thanks dude for great info

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