Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review: Paranormal Activity

• It's the Blair Witch of the 2000s, and almost as good.

Stars: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Director: Oren Peli
Rating (out of 5): &&&1/2
Run time: 1 hr 39 mins

Paranormal Activity, the shoestring-budget movie riding a crest of Blair Witch-sized buzz, is getting a bit overrated, but it's still a movie that every horror fan should make a beeline to see. In a time when empty horror films come and go at the multiplex just about every weekend, this movie proves there is an appetite among audiences for something more than f/x and torture porn, and it's nice to see a fright flick with a brain get some attention. It's been reported that DreamWorks bought the movie with every intention of doing a big-budget version but decided that the lo-fi version was too effective to discard. The movie's rudimentary production style is certainly reminiscent of that of The Blair Witch Project, which, in my opinion, remains the superior of these two movies.

By now, you probably know the basics of the plot — a young couple early in their relationship are having unusual experiences in their home, and the male half (Micah Sloat) decides to set up a camera and audio recorder in the bedroom in an attempt to capture whatever may be happening while they sleep. Early on, we learn that the happenings are attached to the female half (Katie Featherston) and that the noises they both hear and the whispers she hears are the work of a sinister presence. Micah's interest in playing with the electronics is deeper than his conviction that something is really going on until he begins to catch things on tape and the occurrences begin to escalate. Wanting to defend his woman, he also becomes provocative toward the force as the movie goes on, breaking one of the cardinal rules of dealing with the paranormal. It is here that the movie uses one of the staples of the haunted house tale — tension between a couple breeding negative energy that serves to escalate the activity. For all this movie does to cleanse the palate of so many bad horror movies in the 10 years or so since The Sixth Sense and The Ring, it still turns to some familiar devices such as a Ouija board, things that go bump in the night and a snowy television screen. I even found its occasional use of a jolting noise reminiscent of the classic The Haunting, the quintessential horror movie in which the unseen is powerfully frightening — a technique that has been sadly forgotten by too many movie makers.

The best horror movies are those that play on dread and anticipation in unique ways, and Paranormal Activity achieves this in presenting everything from the point of view of Micah's video footage, focusing primarily on a wide view of their bedroom and the hallway. In the beginning, the viewer gets nothing more than a little tease in the overnight footage, which is often time lapsed, but the payoffs gradually increase. By the time the camera captures shadows and footprints creeping into the room, viewers are squirming at the edge of their seats, and the final payoff is truly creepy — almost enough to forgive the grating bullheadedness of Micah's character.


Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Will this induce nausea? I couldn't watch the Blair Witch Project and the Kingdom and that Bond film.

Jebb said...

I don't think it will make you nauseous -- many of the scenes have the camera in a still position, like on the counter or its overnight position. He does carry it around too, though.