Paranormal Activity

paranormal-activity-poster“Paranormal Activity,” an $11,000 horror-wonder, has used its marketing and word-of-mouth among the college crowd to succeed as a $100 million hit for Paramount Pictures.  While a post-Halloween review of the film may be a little late in the game, the film is still having an impressive impact at the box office and will likely add another $10-15 million to its unbelievable haul.  Only unbelievable in comparison to its budget, the film really is 2009’s “Blair Witch Project,” another handheld documentary-esque horror film that kickstarted this whole shaky-cam push for the “it’s-really-happening” approach–a film that also managed to gross over $100 million.

I do appreciate a well-constructed horror film.  Too often ‘horror’ as a genre fails to reach beyond the cliche-riddled approach of the slasher flick, and now the ‘torture porn’ arena that has exploded in cinemas with movies like the “Saw” canon and “Hostel.”  While it may appear that the shelf life of splatter cinema is dying out (look at Saw VI’s box office), “Paranormal Activity” retrospectively plays on some of the horror genre’s greatest strengths–spirits, ghosts, demonic possession, haunted houses, and all those unearthly entities that cannot be beaten.

The story here actually centers around a seemingly “typical” American couple, Katie and Micah, terrorized by an unseen force in their house.  Warnings from a local ghost-whisperer warn the pair that the spirit is no ghost, but an angry demonic presence that he cannot deal with.  The couple is strapped for options, and so Micah sets up a home video camera to capture the events occuring throughout the day and night, and of course, creepy images abound and the terror increases over time.

Audiences have overall been praising this one, overhyping to unbelievable levels–or at least that’s what I read all over the internet.  Anyone I’ve actually talked to about the film in person seems have only been mildly amused by the film’s proceedings.  I mostly agree.  While “Paranormal Activity” deserves props for its atmosphere and its accomplishments with such a small budget, the film still takes too much time between the events taking place.  This is a film that really stretches out the patience of audiences not initally gripped by its very proposal of a potential demonic spirit.  Doors slam, crash noises occur, lights flick on and off, and grunting noises come through a digital audio feed.  By that time the film has reached beyond its halfway point, and when creepier things do happen, the pacing picks up some.  But I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by the ordeal.  The film also preys on the character’s isolation quite a bit.  Of course it helps to maintain the sense of dread and confinement, but I constantly questioned why Katie and Micah simply don’t leave the house.  Yes, their ghostbuster guy tells them that it won’t matter if they leave (the demon will follow them), I find it hard to believe they would put up with some the film’s later events without giving it a shot.  Also, these characters seem normal other than the fact that they’re home all the time.  Do they not have normal everyday jobs?  Are they not around several other people?  I don’t know, but if my house was haunted– first, I’d be out of there, and second, the world would know about it.  These two choose to stay in this house of horror, and somehow manage to sleep at night.

Unfortunately, the film was a bit of a letdown–an admirable step in the right direction for the genre, but one that misfired for me.  A lot of the hype probably had something to do with it, and the fact that the home-video style has worn out its welcome for me.  The ads on TV mostly showcase audience reaction to the film rather than actual footage of the movie, and while that’s an awesome approach in marketing, I sat in a packed audience that never screamed at the screen.

-MJV & the Movies

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Rating: 3.0/5 (1 vote cast)