Saturday, November 14, 2009

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Movie quotes:
Micah: You're screaming like that over a spider?
Katie: Well, yeah... did you go run and get the camera first?

"What is your quest? What is your favorite color?"
- Micah (trying to communicate with the entity)

At a glance:
Paranormal Activity defies its shoestring budget to generate tension and suspense from its simple poltergeist story

Our review (with spoilers):
Katie has been haunted by a shadowy specter since she was five. Although it appears to be mostly a poltergeist (turning on taps, scratching the walls, etc.), there was that unexplained house fire as a child; her family survived but lost the house and everything in it. Now she wants to find out what this thing is. She invites in a psychologist, and her boyfriend Micah buys an expensive camera and monitors their bedroom at night: the hotspot for visitations (but not much else while the camera is on). Micah’s filming and his ‘bring it on’ attitude seems to be aggravating the demon spirit, to the point where visits become louder and more frequent. And since Micah’s attitude toward the visitor is in direct counterpoint to Katie’s (she doesn’t want to challenge or aggravate it, or to find out what it wants), it is causing a rift to develop in what used to be a healthy relationship.

Paranormal Activity is a successful film for so many reasons. First of all, it epitomizes what indie film is all about. At the same time as you can completely enjoy the film’s created tension and inexperienced but ultra-effective performances, you can marvel at the tiny budget. Oren Peli does a lot with a single camera, two actors, and one set.

True, there are weaknesses of repetition – although this somehow works to build suspense. Katie Featherston character – and performance – has more depth to it than the one-note Micah Sloat. It’s difficult to tell if this is the actor’s fault, as Micah simply does not grow much during the film, remaining almost constantly arrogant and disbelieving. And, as in most horror films, the characters are not proactive enough to actually try to do something to get out of their predicament. The expert says it won’t help to leave the house, so they don’t leave. This seemed more like a budgetary limitation than a rational decision. Likewise, Micah is a day trader who works on a computer all day, but when it comes to research on demons, all he finds (and shares with us, anyway) is one website that, again, tells him what they shouldn’t do. You would think that many people would be trying lots of things: garlic, potions, chants – even a panic room. After all, this thing does seem to be able to close doors. Maybe it would have trouble opening a locked door.

But despite minor weaknesses, Paranormal Activity is a major success.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Fun, creepy, unpretentious little haunted house rides like these are so hard to come by these days that slight overpraise is understandable."
- Michael Dequina (

"The time counter clicks away in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, and you'll find your eyes clinging to it like a life preserver."
- Josh Larsen (LarsenOnFilm)

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