It's rather hypocritical that I chose this flick as this week's Vault Pick of the Week. Mainly because the name of this post heading alone is advising that you have to see it. So with that being the case, shouldn't I enjoy watching it again myself? Nope. I'm good. But you see...that alone speaks volumes for how this movie accomplished a goal that few horror movies are able to do.
The movie title alone 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 of 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.
There are so many areas
where "Paranormal Activity" 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 former Vault Pick "Cloverfield"
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
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 sequences.
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 earthy 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 (Micah Sloat) is a much better person than I am. When a psychic visits them in their home, he finds out that Katie (Katie Featherston) 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 interest 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 nightfall will bring.
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 move 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.