Grade: A -
“Paranormal Activity” is a movie that truly lingers in the mind after you finish watching it and haunts you after you leave the movie theater. Unlike most contemporary horror flicks, it taps into something deeper and more powerful.
The film chronicles several days in the life of Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat). After the young couple moves into a typical suburban “tract” house, they become increasingly disturbed by an unknown presence. Katie keeps hearing thumps in the walls. Micah, the skeptical boyfriend, decides to document any peculiarities by setting up a camera in their bedroom at night. The camera often rolls during the day, too, as Micah and Katie, with the help of a hilariously terrified psychic, struggle with the effects of the increasingly freaky haunting.
Katie reveals to Micah that she’s experienced such events sporadically throughout her life. Micah makes several attempts at communicating with what the psychic calls a “demon.” At times, he playfully quarrels and jokes about this so-called demon with Katie. However, when Micah’s recordings show increasingly spooky material, the joke ends up being intensely serious.
Following the likes of “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield,” “Paranormal Activity” is shot using a handheld camera. Though it reverts back to the once novel, subjective camera horror, it surpasses it in its effectiveness. It is also a lot scarier. The shot of the bedroom at night skips ahead in time-lapse form until weird occurrences emerge. While some nights are ordinary, the banality of the couple’s day-to-day existence when they’re not hearing anything enhances the realism of the movie. Although this may make some impatient, it provides the necessary tension.
Ultimately powerless, the couple ends up experiencing supernatural forces that leave one squirming in their seat. Unlike “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity” shows what is going on between the characters and antagonizing entity. The images and sounds don’t relinquish from your mind as quickly as the apparition itself, and it all looks believable. It makes you think twice about the plausibility of the situation and wonder what happens when you go to sleep yourself.
In the vein of Hitchcock, director Oren Peli achieves a lot with little. The film only focuses on the inside of the house. Costing only $15,000, the ultra-low-budget horror film is reminiscent of atmospheric pieces like “The Shining.”
The setting plays a large part in the audience’s discomfort; the ways in which the house is established leaves you no air to breathe. The low-budget aesthetic, though small, produces brilliant, heightened effects which end up helping the filmmaker execute a rope-balancing act with the audience’s emotions and expectations — and it works.
This is a no gag-inducing gore flick. If you are in the mood for a horror movie that is scary, entertaining and actually realistic, this is the movie for you.