Paranormal Activity: B+
A phenomenal success story for the low budget horror genre, Paranormal Activity was made for $13,000 with no recognizable actors, gore, or special effects. It’s a close cousin to The Blair Witch Project, but with less mystery at the end. If you liked that one, you’ll like this.
The trajectory of the film’s hype was easy to predict. There was a huge rush of praise, followed by the inevitable backlash of people who saw it after being told how good it was, went in with their expectations too high, and proclaimed it’s overrated.
What I liked most is that I can tell you what’s good about it. Remember what that was like? Before the days of big, overwrought, CGI nonsense likeTransformers 2, G.I. Joe, and the excruciatingly awful-looking 2012 took over the multiplexes? Try asking someone what he liked about those movies. You’ll get “It was hella cool” and “It had so many ‘wow’ moments” and “Megan Fox is hot.”
Here’s my breakdown, sans spoilers:
What’s great about the film is that it plays with our feeling of safety. Blair Witch took place in the woods. Those people went looking for trouble.Paranormal Activity is shot exclusively within a young couple’s San Diego house. We’re trapped inside with them, and the claustrophobia builds. Furthermore, most of the really bad stuff happens in the bedroom, while they sleep. That’s the place we all should feel the safest, but when we sleep we’re never more vulnerable. That paradox played havoc with me for 90 minutes.
As per horror movie tradition, things start innocently enough with some soft thumping and harmlessly moved personal items, and the suspense builds from there. There’s the typical macho arrogance from the alpha-male who thinks it’s all a big joke…until shit gets real. And boy, does it ever get real. There are some slow moments, but the last ten minutes are as harrowing as it gets.
I wasn’t impressed by either of the two lead actors (Micah Sloat and Katie Featherstone), but they were passable enough to keep things in the realm of believability. The film’s strength is the way the suspense keeps building with the use of very simple techniques that don’t take an army of computer programmers. The use of stop-motion photography. A light going on and off. A menacing growl.
Low-budget success stories like this show that all is not lost for filmmakers who aspire to be more than glorified video game programmers or purveyors of torture porn. If you loved Hostel because “It was hella sick, bro,” this flick’s probably not for you. But if you are able to let your imagination run wild and don’t mind being haunted when you turn off the lights, this is a pretty creepy Activity.