Paranormal Activity (2009)


Dave’s 3-Word Review:
A True Scare

Imagine, if you will, a theater jam packed with horror fans eager to see the next big thing. Now, imagine it is for a movie releasing in the coming week…you’re one of the first groups to see it. Now see yourself watching it and the audience as they react the things on screen. They gasp, they cower, they jump, and they look away. In Minneapolis, that was me. I can say first hand that those tacky Paranormal Activity trailers showing the audience’s reactions are in fact real. This film was and still remains the scariest movie I have ever seen, hands down. By the end of the film, I was glued to the seat. Maybe it was just the one-time experience, right? So, I have seen it a few times since, and I stand by my original rating, this is one truly unique film. I don’t care about anything negative ever said about it, Paranormal Activity is a filmmaking gem.

Katie is being haunted by some kind of malevolent spirit, and her boyfriend Micah thought it would be a swell idea to catch the paranormal activity on camera. So he sets up the camera with the magic never-ending battery and videotape every night, watching their bedside. When only small things happen, Micah is unimpressed, and decides to antagonize the demon into doing more interesting things. This antagonizing obviously makes this spirit angry, and things begin to escalate…quickly.

I know I called the camera a magical piece of equipment that has a never-ending battery and videotape, but the film clearly explains it through plugging the sucker into the computer and recording it that way. However, not everyone knows everything about camera equipment and importing and capturing video. Let me just explain it to you briefly: what he says makes sense, and it’s not a magic camera.

This is a very human film, believe it or not. Their acting and reactions are timed so brilliantly, you’d think they were told to just ad-lib every scene. Whether it was completely scripted or not, they did their roles very well, and they had remarkable stage chemistry, which honestly helped the entire movie be terrifying. The only problem is that it doesn’t feel as raw and unedited as it should. There are seemingly useless cuts with a simple fade transition stitching two scenes that are shot in the same angle and only milliseconds apart. Other shots show Micah walking down the stairs, and the next thing you see is downstairs…hello, this isn’t one of the sequels…there’s only one camera – so that camera you left upstairs recording should still be up there. And will someone please tell me why raw unedited footage blurs out brand names? Sure, it could just be Paramount Pictures doing it for legal reasons, but it’s just stupid little technical things involving the camerawork confuse the audience and lessen the realism, but for most that are hooked to the movie most likely won’t even catch these things.

Like I said, this is the scariest film I have ever seen. Other critics often complain about the “little things” in the film in which they commonly call “pathetic”. They want to actually see something. Well, if they were in the prescreening with me, they would have heard the simultaneous gasp as audience members watched the bedroom door slowly move. They would have seen a wave of shocked audience members jumping, screaming, and looking away. It’s about keeping things simple, keeping things unknown, taking advantage of the moments people expect something to happen, and make something else happen in its place. I’ve said this many times before, the scary aspect to Paranormal Activity isn’t visual; it’s through the use of sounds and legends. What is making that sound, what is it doing…what will it do next – you can’t know because it’s invisible, and all of this sitting – watching these people sleep gives you anxiety. The unknown is always the scariest part of a movie hands down. Critics want to see something? That would make the movie terrible. Every other movie out there shows you something, and it’s not scary. It may be gory, it may provide a gimmicky and temporary jump, but it won’t have the long-lasting effect that this film had.

The movie also got on your nerves through Micah repeatedly antagonizing the demon. It’s stupid, and it affects the audience members enough to literally think, if not shout to him, that he needs to stop. Something bad will happen, and it does…the bad things that happen in this film escalate exponentially. All the way to the end. Also, how about the illusion of Katie standing at the side of the bed for hours…even audience members that don’t review movies will have an inner voice asking…did she really do that? It certainly seems so, but she obviously doesn’t. For the most part, the video editing is extremely well done. As is the audio. Most of the audio presented in this film is unexplainable. Thank you, Foley artists. It is so convincing just from the audio that this is real, that this is paranormal.

Well, this is just a clone of The Blair Witch Project, right? Wrong. TBWP and PA have similar concepts, such as the usage of sound and legend (as well as found-footage) in order to facilitate fear. It used fears people already had against them, fears like –of the dark, getting lost, and the sounds of nature. That’s all fun, and I can respect The Blair Witch a lot, but I prefer this more. It also took fears people already had like darkness and ghosts, but that’s not what made the film scary. What made it scary is having very likeable people that you can connect with, show you what’s going on in their lives through a first perspective, then sent you home to sleep hidden under the covers.

I didn’t sleep the first time I saw Paranormal Activity. Maybe that was because directly out of my bedroom door resembled the exact same thing seen in the film – a hallway to the left, a set of descending stairs to the right. Maybe it was something else, but this is a successful franchise for a reason. Yes, the sequels do lose the mission the first one clearly set, but there are interesting things about them as well. Interesting is as far as they go though. You want fear, go here.

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