Oct 17, 2014

Review: Paranormal Activity (2007)

The first time I saw Paranormal Activity, I didn't watch it alone and I'm glad that I didn't. I'm not sure if I would've been able to fall asleep that night if I did. I saw it with my sister who I would consider a veteran of the horror genre, but luckily also not the kind of person who's constantly saying to watch the next part or warning me of any scary bits. She was just there as a silent companion, there to listen to me swearing when stuff got out of hand.

That being said, Paranormal Activity is not the kind of movie you want to watch on your own. Especially if it's late at night. In the same vein as The Blair Witch Project, it's a found footage film that was extremely cheap to make and delivers big on the scare scale. It features pretty much just two actors and one stationary camera in the home. That's all it takes.


Genre: horror
Directed by: Oren Peli
Produced by: Jason Blum, Oren Peli, Steven Schneider, etc.
Written by: Oren Peli
Music by: N/A
Running time: 86 minutes
Production company: Solana Films, Blumhouse Productions
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks SKG, Icon Film Distribution, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $15,000
Box office: $193,355,800 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, Ashley Palmer



Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) live a relatively comfortable life in San Diego. They're close to most likely being engaged while Katie finishes up her education as a teacher and Micah works as a day trader. However strange things have been happening around the house that has Katie worried that whatever used to haunt her as a child is back. Micah is not that concerned but has the idea to set up a camera to capture anything strange that happens. 


The setup of Paranormal Activity is short and sweet. Strange stuff is happening in the house like lights flickering, strange noises or even the kitchen faucet turning on randomly. Micah has the idea of catching everything on camera to really see if anything is happening. A psychic is also brought in on the behest of Katie who explains that she's had something "haunting" her since she was a child. 

The psychic scene could've been something that came off as silly and unbelievable but it all comes off as very realistic. It sets the stage and works very well at suspending the viewer's disbelief. There wasn't much of a script for Paranormal Activity and actors mostly just improvised based on rough outlines of each scene. As a result everything feels very natural and convincing. It helps that Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat have some pretty good chemistry together too.

The arguing that starts happening between Katie and Micah feels like the same thing that would happen between a couple going through the same thing. They were told by the psychic that whatever is bothering them feeds off negative energy so even the daytime scenes contribute to the dread of when night will come. Micah is maybe a bit too much of an idiot but I think that he's just reacting to his fear in a different way. However it's not a good feeling as a viewer watching him taunt whatever it is that's in the house. 

In terms of the found footage style of PA, there's an opening disclaimer that thanks the families of the people in the "footage" as well as the San Diego Police. There are also no end credits because this isn't a film as we all know. In all seriousness the effect is pretty good though and the use of the stationary camera while Katie and Micah sleep is so simple but brilliant at the same time.

Yes, there are many times where nothing is happening but it has the effect of building up for the moments when something does happen. You start dreading the nighttime scenes. You dread when the fast forwarding through the hours of the night will stop and you don't know what's going to happen. That's how you make horror work, with fear of the unknown. I love a movie that's patient and Paranormal Activity is one of them. There are no dumb jump scares in this one, just well built up horror that will leave your heart racing.

That unfortunately does not really apply to the ending though. The ending is without a doubt the weakest part of the movie and that's because it's an ending that was commissioned by Paramount. I've never seen the original ending but I have read about it and it does sound better than what's given. It just doesn't feel like it belongs to the same movie at all. 

Besides the mediocre ending, Paranormal Activity has it all. The acting is more than convincing, the scares are real enough to make you feel uncomfortable in your own bed and the found footage style works in its favour. It's more than enough proof that you don't need a big budget, tons of effects or even a soundtrack to make a movie scary. The ending is just unfortunately a really big sore point.



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