Genre: Horror, Indie
Country: United States
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, Ashley Palmer
Director: Oren Peli
Run time: 86 minutes
DVD distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Paranormal Activity, out December 29th from Paramount Home Entertainment, is one of those movies, like Blair Witch, that has managed to make a ton of money and earn rave reviews, seemingly out of nowhere. An extremely low-budget film, shot with handheld cameras, with a terrifically frightening ending and some fantastically tense moments. I really enjoyed this simple, small but wonderfully effective film.
That being said, I would like to take this moment to complain about films like Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity. Movies like these are the kind of movies that make every wannabe film maker think they can make a great horror film with their handheld camera in their backyard and become a famous overnight sensation. Most of the time, those people are wrong. They forget one thing – they need an original, clever premise, and the skills to shoot it. I have seen a lot of horrible garbage since Blair Witch, and I am betting that in the next few years I will see a lot more horrible garbage thanks to Paranormal Activity.
Now, back to the movie. Which is very good. When you have a limited budget, you have to find a cheap but effective way to create scares. And Paranormal Activity succeeds beyond all expectations with a very simple device. It’s a haunted house movie where a young couple decide to film themselves while sleeping so they can figure out what’s happening in their house. Almost all the creepiness comes straight from that video while they are in bed.
At first, it’s little things like shadows and sheets moving. Then it gets more and more intense as the film goes on. Adding to the tension is the obligatory psychic who is too scared to come in the house. Mark Fredrichs plays the psychic, and his terror is palpable as he feels the evil presence in the home.
Another nice twist is that it isn’t really the home itself that is haunted. Instead, it’s Katie herself (Katie Featherston) who is haunted. It’s a nice plot device to avoid all those complaints that I often have with haunted house movies. Why wouldn’t you leave the house when you figured out it was haunted? Well, in this case they can’t, because the evil spirit would continue to follow Katie wherever she went.
Also adding to the creepiness and the scare factor is the fact that everything they do to try to contact this spirit makes it angrier. The more Katie’s boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) films their bedroom, the angrier it gets. When he tries to contact it using a ouija board, it becomes infuriated. This is a really interesting device also, because it means that the one medium we have to see the frightening events is also the one thing making those events worse.
Paranormal Activity can succeed only as a really low-budget indie film. Which means it will never be a classic horror film like The Exorcist, for example. But within the confines of making a movie with no name actors and almost no money, it succeeds more than admirably.