The name itself did nothing for me when I first saw it. I was cruising IMDB while I was doing research on another film and saw the ad for this one at the top of the page. I thought nothing of it at the time. I just figured it was some knock-off one of those thousands of ghost-hunter shows that are on cable. But then I saw it pop up on another movie site I was visiting. It was getting rave reviews from normal people and professional critics. I read into it a little more and soon became obsessed with getting it here so I could see for myself what all the hype was about.
Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are a twentysomething couple who reside in a newer home in San Diego. Katie believes that malevolent spirits have been following her since childhood, though Micah is not so easily convinced. After a paranormal researcher tells the couple he can't help them, Micah decides to take control of the situation and purchases a video camera so that if a spirit manifests itself, he can capture its behavior on tape. The surveillance camera succeeds in capturing some extraordinary events that get more intense with each passing night.
There are so many areas where this film succeeds that I wouldn't even know where to start. Let's begin with the most obvious which is the mockumentary style I love so much. This flick differs slightly from similar formats seen in "Cloverfield" and "Quarantine" in that there's not a lot of shaky camera action. For most of the movie, the camera is set down so the couple can film what's happening while they sleep. That cuts down on the amount of headaches that viewing those shaky cam shots can instill yet still achieves the same realistic effect.
It is during these evening scenes while the couple is sleeping that some of the best activity takes place. You KNOW something is going to happen, but you don't know what and you don't know when. That mystery of the unknown builds an incredible amount of unnerving suspense. The eventual happenings themselves deliver some genuine moments of fear. They are so effective that even as I sit here writing this review I continue to get chills as I reflect on what happened during those scenes.
Another huge plus is they wisely chose to go with unknown actors. There was talk that when Paramount Studios got involved, they discussed reshooting the movie using known actors to get the name recognition. The decision not to was one of the best decisions they could have made. The movie has a much more realistic feel when it's two regular looking people that none of us recognize. It's more relatable. It gives "Paranormal Activity" an authenticity that makes the scares more authentic as well.
I can't help but think that Micah is a much better person than I am. When a psychic visits them in their home, he finds out that Katie has been having problems with a spirit following her intermittently throughout her life. So it wasn't based on the house because Katie was the common denominator. Wherever she went, it would eventually find her. If that was me, that would be the ultimate deal-breaker. We could be be cool, but there is NO way I would stay in that relationship. They weren't married, engaged and no kids. He didn't have that much of a vested interested so no one could blame him if he wanted to save his own sanity and get out while the getting was good. I'm just saying.
The simplicity of "Paranormal Activity" is ultimately what works so well for it. The setting never leaves the house. It never needs to. When they go to that basic wide shot of the bedroom at night, your mind is racing in a thousand different places as you try to figure out what's getting ready to happen. Your heart begins beating faster as your eyes are scanning the scene trying to guess what the couple will experience that evening. The absence of the requisite horror movie music allows you to focus solely on the tension that the couple experience as both you and the couple anxiously await what the next night will bring.
This movie was so amazing that I almost decided to end my 31
Days of Horror Marathon. It was partly because I was pretty confident
that any other movies I would see would pale greatly comparison. It
was also partly because this flick did such a phenomenal job of shaking
me that I felt like taking a break from scary movies for a while just
to allow some recovery time. As it is, I've already seen this movie twice and it is just as terrifying the second time around even when you know what to expect.
There are very few movies that I've seen where the audience is left in physical awe once it's been concluded. "Paranormal Activity" falls into that category. Another smart decision the studio made was there are no closing credits with this flick which allows you to soak up what you have just witnessed. In doing so, it elongates the shock sensation that the final moments give you. It allows you to realize that you've just witnessed one of the best horror films ever made.
My rating: A+