Film Review: Paranormal Activity

Every few years there is a film that is released to such an amount of hype that everyone and their mother is talking about it. This year is another one of those years and the film in question is “Paranormal Activity”. By now you have probably experienced the well done viral campaign either by way of internet trailers, television trailers or good old fashioned word of mouth, god know I have. By now you have also probably been told by countless people that “Paranormal Activity” is the scariest film ever. I am not sure what film all these people saw.

“Paranormal Activity” follows along with the odd, paranormal goings on of dating couple, Katie and Micah. Katie (Katie Fetherston) has a history of paranormal experiences dating back to her childhood and Micah (Micah Sloat) has the idea to capture the strange happenings at night with his nifty new camera. And capture strange happenings he does. Doors inexplicably moving, shadows on the wall, Katie’s weird sleepwalking behavior, lights flickering, chandeliers moving by themselves, all of it captured on film. If you name it and Micah probably captures it on film, including the tension that builds between Katie and Micah as the days progress and more and more unexplainable actions take place.

In a film of this nature it is very important for people to be able to relate to the primary characters and at the beginning “Paranormal Activity” seems to nail it but about halfway through the film, when the proverbial excrement begins to hit the fan Micah reveals himself to be an absolute jerk. Despite having visual and audio evidence that shows something odd is indeed happening he, instead of being supportive of Katie, actively does things to provoke Katie and make things worse (both in his relationship and the “haunting”). An argument could be made that Micah was struggling to believe that what was actually happening was real and it is a fair enough argument except for the fact that Micah continues to believe he can solve the problem himself even when spontaneous combustion, broken pictures and lizard like footprints appear in the house. At some point even the most ardent skeptic would have to give in.

I hate to be the film snob but “Paranormal Activity” fails at the key ingredient to any horror film, and that being scares. The amount of actual scares in 90 minutes of watching the film for me counted at one and that one was a cheap genre tactic that even the worst horror films can pull off. Much like “The Blair Witch Project”, “Paranormal Activity” attempts to pass off its footage as “real”. This can be a problem for the film outside of the first few audiences who see it that do not know what they are getting into. I actively tried to avoid any spoilers about the film but like “Blair Witch” before it, trying to avoid coverage of something as massive as the hype train for this film is impossible.

“Paranormal Activity” does do a good job of trying to establish itself as something different. There are no credits at the beginning or end of the film except for a quick copyright disclaimer and there are some neat camera and special effects work that really intrigued me. Director Oren Peli has studied graphics and animation and his expertise in that area comes through quite well as the tricks he employs come off on screen as amazing, unfortunately he may need to study up a little more on what makes a good horror film.

Peli has been quoted as saying he admires the slow burn approach to horror as in film like “The Exorcist”, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Sixth Sense” and it is evident he tried to model “Paranormal Activity” after that pacing. There is nothing wrong with taking a deliberate approach with a film but there are other factors that play into the overall success a film has as a whole though. Unfortunately due to the way he chose to deliver his film (as “real” footage) he ignored some other key aspects of those films including good acting, storytelling and exposition. It doesn’t help that the film itself has some plot inconsistencies that actively took me out of the “experience”. I don’t want to spoil anything here but suffice it to say that I had major issues with the alarm system and the location where Micah says he finds a particular photo.

I love horror films. A good one really gets me going, with rapid heart beating, cold sweats, and adrenaline flowing to produce a natural high. I wanted to like “Paranormal Activity” but as a horror film it just doesn’t work for me. The film is far from the horror masterpiece people are making it out to be.

(It is however a technical marvel that I am interested in learning more about.)

2 out of 5

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