Originally published on January 20, 2008
When people begin describing a movie as being “Very much like ‘The Blair Witch Project,’” there’s a collective groan and eye roll that emerges from audiences. Whether you loved the movie or hated it, people are very turned off by the whole mock documentary/found footage movie theme, but it’s become a great way for indie filmmakers to tell their story and save money. It’s cheaper, and it allows for a grittier realism that sometimes works. “Paranormal Activity” succeeds with flying colors. It’s a brutal, exhausting, and genuinely horrifying little ghost flick that really makes me rethink my stance on horror films altogether.
The last independent film to use this medium that won me over and has yet to catch on is “In Memorium.” This movie is very much in the vein of “Paranormal Activity” with pretty much the same arc and concept, while “Paranormal Activity” has better performances and wonderful direction that sell the packaged “found footage” concept depicting a supernatural occurrence that inevitably ruins a happy couple. “Paranormal Activity” has become a slightly controversial independent film by continuing the pretense that what we seen here may or may not be fictional.
Like in “Street Thief,” the folks behind this have declined to truly explain if what we’re watching is pure fiction from innovative filmmakers, or the most realistic footage of a demonic presence we’ll ever see. This approach toward blurring the lines of fiction and reality have split the audience. Fictional or not, “Paranormal Activity” acts upon its illusion wonderfully with incredible performances from its duo (if they are performances, that is), and utterly incredible special effects (If they are special… you know the rest).
Every bit of dialogue feels natural, and every moment of misery, mental torture, and pain feels genuine. Micah and Katie have moved in together, and Katie is convinced that she’s been haunted all of her life. This presence that’s watched over her has apparently followed her everywhere, including to this new house, and the apparition that resides with them seems to have a fond interest in Katie. Her vain and selfish boyfriend Micah is a man who seeks to document the spectacle with his camera and equipment and purposely ignores Katie’s pleas to respect the paranormal presence and refrain from taunting it. But as the nights pass, the events in the house become much more harrowing, and the deliberately paced “Paranormal Activity” takes us along for a grueling experience with every breath.
Micah is first amused by the proceedings and gradually comes to the realization that this benevolent force will be the death of the two and no one can help them. Every day there’s a wash of relief over the couple, and even if the audience feels safer, they will dread the night. Every introduction of nighttime footage in the master bed room brings with it a sense of sheer terror of what will unfold ever so slowly. There’s nary an explanation of whom or what is terrorizing this couple, and there’s barely any hint to what is bringing terror to this household. Claw prints appear along the floors, recollections of a childhood fire Katie experienced is constantly alluded to, and the night welcomes a force of evil that makes every passing moment an experience that will leave you covering your eyes.
We never get a full glimpse of the force wreaking havoc on the couple, thus we leave the film feeling a sense of incompletion and discomfort as it ends on a twisted and rather disappointing note.
But suffice it to say, if you think horror movies can’t scare you, if you think modern horror has nothing more to offer, try sitting through “Paranormal Activity” and then thank the filmmakers for changing your mind.