Paranormal Activity – Review

One of the year’s biggest sleepers may keep you from doing just that!

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Director: Oren Peli
Notable Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

The problem with independent movies that have small initial releases – only to become sleeper hits with wide releases – is that in order for it to take place, giant amounts of praise is usually given to the film long before most of the movie-going public can see it. What this causes is hype, which can be either a blessing or a curse depending on the amount being given, and if the product is solid enough to support it.

An example of this that comes to mind would be Juno which received the utmost praise and even garnered an Oscar nomination for best picture. The film started off showing on just seven screens, and then blew up to over 2,500 screens in roughly a month – taking in a domestic total of over $140 million. By the time I’d gotten around to viewing it the hype about it being one of the best pictures of the year was so huge that there was almost no way it could live up to it.

Would the feeling have been different had it been seen when it was released on one of the initial seven screens, before all the praise? It can’t be certain, however, without all the hype going in there’s always the element of surprise that makes these films so special in their own ways. Paranormal Activity is the latest independent film to be put on the pedestal built from critical acclaim.

Promising to be so scary the very thought of sleeping afterwards gives you chills, Paranormal Activity is the first limited-release film to be demanded by fans into a nation-wide release. After countless midnight sell-outs, fans demanded the film be shown in cities all over. Paramount listened, but one problem remains. Was this another film that would be hurt by the hype and not be able to live up to the expectations of those who demanded a chance to witness it? Well that depends on how it’s viewed.

After attending a midnight screening, one thing is for certain: crowd reactions can make or break the vibe you feel throughout. The film is shot by two primary actors, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat – who play Katie and Micah respectively in the film as well – in the style of The Blair Witch Project. The story follows this couple that is being haunted by a demonic presence and wish to gather evidence of such via their video recorder. There are mainly two things happening throughout the film: character interactions with one another and their subsequent reactions to the bizarre happenings around them. The video camera is critical to all of this, as most of the demonic events take place when the two are sleeping.

The sleeping parts are where the characters are most vulnerable, and where you as the viewer feel the most intense sense of dread when things happen because you can put yourself in their shoes. What if it was you sleeping in that bed? What if you heard a noise while you were sleeping and it turned out to be so much more than just the wind? That’s how this film is best viewed, by putting yourself in the characters shoes, as their terror can easily turn into your terror – that is if the audience allows you to do this.

During the points when the characters are sleeping, there’s a deadly silence that flows through the theatre. It’s eerie, it sets the mood, and is exactly how quiet it would be at 2 a.m. or whatever the time in the film may be. The problem is that the mood can easily be broken by someone who thinks they’re being funny by shouting out a random joke in the middle of the silence, thus breaking the tension, and ruining the mood. While not all audiences will be like this, try not to let it take you out of the zone, as the film does some spectacular things with such a simple template that work best on the initial viewing, it’s a shame to miss out.

Like Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity won’t be for everyone, as it starts out slow, but does so only so the tension can grow that much more as it enters the tail-end of the second act. If the entire movie was as intense as roughly the last half of the film is it would lose the power it has in its solid build up. The style the film is shot in, with the camera being swung around in various directions, may also be an issue to some. The camerawork is much smoother than the Blair Witch by comparison likely because of the tighter area the two were working in (a house over an entire forested area).

So does Paranormal Activity fall to the hype machine that allowed it to be viewed by the millions from coast to coast who wanted to see it? The answer to that all depends on the viewer and that they expect going in. There’s no blood and gore, or masked killer, and one would almost be better off looking at it as a psychological thriller over some of the horror hype surrounding it. If you allow your mind to enter the minds of the characters, and put yourself in their position, then you will find yourself in for one hell of a ride that will leave chills running down your spine, and second guessing every noise you hear as you turn off the light at night.


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