Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Paranormal Activity (2009) Review

Paranormal Activity
Scary things go bump in the night…don’t you know?

What actually happens while we sleep? Does everything stay normal all through the night or do forces unknown to us humans roam around while we lay in our beds unaware? Well, have you ever thought about filming yourself during this time period just so you can figure out the truth? We’ve all heard strange noises, creaking floorboards, and think we just saw a shadow creeping along the wall. As a matter of fact, this happened to me a while back when I saw the original Halloween for the first time at the tender age of 11. It was my introduction to “true” horror movies (I grew up reading Goosebumps and watching all the movies based on the series), and it scared me silly. That night, I went to bed with my door open, only to wake up at 2am to see a shadow on the hall ceiling of what looked to be Michael Myers holding his knife. Turns out the shadow was just the illumination of an air vent twisted by my frightened perceptions from the movie. But what if that shadow was actually something else, something real that could not be explained?

Plot Synopsis: Micah and Katie are a couple that are convinced a ghost haunts their house. Or at least Katie is convinced, while Micah remains skeptical about the situation. In order to find out the truth, Micah buys a high-tech camera so that he can document the goings-on during the day and while they sleep at night. At first, everything seems rather nonchalant as car keys are found in other places and doors sway on their own. But Micah blows them off as strange occurrences and mocks Katie’s beliefs by taunting the would-be ghost. As the incidents get increasingly more obvious, Katie sets up an appointment with a psychic to try and make sense out of everything. During the meeting, Katie reveals that she thinks this being has followed her since she was eight years old, when her house burned down for no explainable reason. The psychic concludes that the strange entity is no mere ghost, but a demon that will not stop until it gets whatever it wants from Katie. Of course, Micah still thinks everything to be delusions of Katie’s mind, and once again mocks her by taunting the demon again. Not to worry, the demon will respond soon enough.


Remember The Blair Witch Project? Yeah, Paranormal Activity plays out similarly with the found-footage concept and hand-held camerawork. But while many complained that Blair Witch didn’t have enough scares and lacked a definite pay-off (I disagree with both of those beliefs whole-heartedly), Paranormal shouldn’t cause the same reaction. Some may write off the first hour as slow, but those who do are ignorant to the impact of a good suspense build-up. Rather having hell on earth happening all throughout, things start out innocent and small-scale before ramping up in danger and intensity. It’s an effect similar to the metaphorical twisting of a knife. After the entry jab (becoming aware of the demon presence), the knife slowly turns for a prolonged time period (suspense), before finally finishing the job. Because the suspense leads up to some real action, the intensity and unpredictability of the final scenes will have you gripping your armrest (or your date’s arm) with fear.


Adding to the scares is the atmosphere that director Oren Peli conjures up, which is both stark in its realism and eerie in its subdued supernatural elements. There are some nice visual and audio motifs that effectively creep you out, such as the low hum that plays during the demon incidents and the fact that the bedroom door is always open, which expands the possibilities of where the demon will strike next. Even though we are dealing with hauntings and demons, everything feels very immediate and believable. Peli is making the statement that even in Katie and Micah’s house, where they should feel protected, safe, and in control, they are powerless and at the mercy of the demon’s hold. This realism is precisely why the movie succeeded so well at scaring the crap out of me, because the little illusions in life that we take for granted (weird noises and the like) are exploited here to the fullest. Adding to the movie’s relatable setting are the natural and organic performances from our two leads, who use their real names for their respective roles. Each of them even has their own subtle arc that develops with each passing incident with the demon and as their relationship slowly deteriorates. Even Micah, who starts to get annoying after it becomes obvious that the demon is really angry, realizes the error of his ways eventually and settles down.

Not to go back to The Blair Witch Project again, but there is another aspect that both movies contain and benefit greatly from. I’m sure you know the basic notion that something is scarier when you know less about it. What if you never actually saw what the monster was? That’s right, we never actually see the demon, and only get hints at its appearance through the various evidence left behind (hint: footprints). Eventually it does take on some form in the closing minutes, but not in an obvious way. To find out what does happen, you’ll just have to watch the movie. But don’t be surprised if you freak out when your floor creaks at night afterwards.


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