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Movie Review: Paranormal Activity

Written By: Les Talma

2009-08-21

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"Paranormal Activity" - Starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat
Directed by: Oren Peli


So what's the deal with "Paranormal Activity"? Is it really that scary?

Well, it's "old school" scary, like the original version of "The Haunting" by Robert Wise. There's a slow, methodical and subtle build-up to the chills. It's not a jump out and startle effect. It's the gradual realization that something is very, very wrong and there's a whole lot more to the situation than was first perceived.

BASIC PLOT: A couple has been hearing weird sounds at night, so they set up a camera to try to capture the source of the disturbance. Is it a neighbor, an animal, a ghost? They hope to find out, and we find out with them.

That's all you should really know before going in to see the film. Something weird is happening. They try to record it. The camera starts recording some strange phenomena. Things escalate. Unsettlement and shock follow.

The set-up is simple.It's shot like a (deceptively) mundane, home movie.

There are no opening credits, because everything we see is set up as found footage like in "Blair Witch" or "Cloverfield". So we're introduced to the couple, Micah and Katie, when Micah starts operating the camera he just bought. But don't worry, there's not a lot of shaky cam action since most of the time the camera is set up on a tripod in the bedroom. So, no headaches for the audience.

SCARE FACTOR: So why is this freaking out audiences?

It's what the film taps into. 
It's that slight trepidation that you feel when you wake up in the middle of the night and you hear something that is definitely not the house's foundation settling or the sound of the wind in trees. It's that feeling that grips you when you consider taking a shortcut through a dark alley at night. Anything could be in that darkness, waiting for a chance to grab and drag you away into the unseen.  Anything could be waiting in the dark. Anything could be watching you while you're asleep and you'd never know.

The couple's camera is set up so that it shows a dark hallway. We keep waiting to see something. We know something is going to happen, but we don't know what. Anticipation is wound up so much that just the slightest tap sends a jolt through the viewer.

If you do see this in a theater, and I recommend that you do, watch how the audience quiets down when one of the characters ask, "Did you hear that?". Watch how the tiniest, nocturnal, unexplainable movement is so effective in getting a reaction from the tensed-up audience.

And yeah, after you see it, it sticks with you. Especially when you settle down to go to bed, turn off the lights and find yourself lying there as the movie runs through your mind again.