Paramount Pictures/Dreamworks Pictures
Directed and Written by Oren Peli
Produced by Steven Schneider and Jason Blum
Two annoying characters who spend most of their time arguing while living in a strange house that makes noises is not a horror movie. It’s called marriage. Which can be pretty horrifying itself. But I digress. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY presents itself as a horror movie but it’s the least horrifying movie I’ve ever seen. With perhaps the exception of “Open Water” but let’s not go there.
Once upon a time a gang of enterprising filmmakers unleashed upon the world an independent horror film called “The Blair Witch Project” that was more remarkable for its marketing strategy than the actual movie itself. The movie was about as scary as a bag of potato chips but it racked up an impressive amount of dollars at the box office. Somewhere in the neighborhood of over two hundred million dollars. Not bad for a movie that cost only half a million to make. “The Blair Witch Project” purported to be a documentary, using actual footage from a camera used by three amateur filmmakers hiking in the backwoods in some godforsaken place they had no business being in the first place. The filmmakers went missing and the footage from the camera is the only record of what happened to them. Every since that movie hit big, other filmmakers have tried to duplicate the success of “Blair Witch” with similar movies told in documentary style claiming to be true records of terrifying events.
Like “The Blair Witch Project” PARANORMAL ACTIVITY also presents us with a film that is supposed to be the actual footage from a camera set up in the bedroom of Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston). Katie has been plagued by ghostly visitations and poltergeist pesterings ever since she was a child and she reveals this to Micah who thinks it’s a gas and intends to use the camera to record everything in the bedroom while they sleep. The idea being that they’ll be able to have a visual record of anything supernatural that occurs.
Now there’s so much wrong with this thinking I hardly know where to start. But one of the major flaws in this movie is that Micah treats the supernatural as a game, much the same way JoBeth Williams did at the beginning of “Poltergeist”
Micah has little respect for the warnings and pleadings of Katie. And once Micah starts fooling around with an Ouija board I knew for a fact he was a lost case.
Weird things happen. Door open and close by themselves. The TV and downstairs lights turn on and off by themselves. Whispers and muttered voices echo in the halls. Katie gets up in the middle of the night and stands by the side of the bed for hours, just staring at Micah. A psychic is asked to come and help. He enters the house and five second later, leaves. He advises the couple to leave as well. They do not. In fact, it isn’t until one really frightening event which proves the movie with its only real scare that the couple is ready to throw in the towel and call it quits. By then it’s far too late.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is another in a series of movies I’ve seen that I consider to have been designed to be ‘event’ movies due to their viral marketing strategies. Films like “The Blair Witch Project” “Cloverfield” come immediately to mind and judging from the financial successful of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY I’d say that it paid off. It also helped the movie that the story got around that Steven Spielberg himself was freaked out by the movie and even claimed his bedroom door closed and locked by itself while he was watching the movie. It sure doesn’t hurt your movie to have a story like that making the rounds on The Internet.
The acting is surprisingly quite good. Micah Sloat plays a dickhead so convincingly that I hope it is acting and not just him playing himself. Katie Featherston makes the most of her screentime to create a sympathetic character who just simply wants to live a normal life and would rather not have to deal with this. But there’s an air of predestined doom flavoring her performance that I found intriguing. And first time director Oren Peli is talented and skillful and he does know how to create an atmosphere of dread and suspense using only shadow and sound. I’d be interested in seeing what he does with a movie that has more substance and character to it.
So should you see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY? Chances are you already have and liked it and so have pooh-poohed away my review. And that’s okay. This definitely wasn’t my kind of movie because if this is supposed to scare people then there’s an awful lot of folks walking around who scare really easy. The type who catch a heart attack at the sound of a flushing toilet, I suppose.