DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Paranormal Activity

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity (2009) dir. Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs


By Alan Bacchus

I love these types of success stories - a low budget, truly independent film getting picked up for a six-figure advance, released nationally to what could be a $100million dollar film - success derived simply from good filmmaking, or ‘pure cinema’.

With $60million under its belt, the film is no doubt the event movie of the year. That kind of lottery ticket film every filmmaker dreams of. As much as it is inspiring, it’s also frustrating to think, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’The story behind the success of the $15,000 film, which took 2 years to get its theatrical release after first premiering at the Slamdance film festival is summarized as an inspiring story of filmmaking luck, serendipity, persistence and a lot of marketing savvy on the film’s wikipedia entry HERE.

By now most people know the story, a couple haunted by a ghost in their house and shown to us via the videocamera documentation of its characters, on paper would seem like blatant rip off of 1999’s ‘The Blair Witch Project’. Back then I had thought that film was a one-off outlier of success, something we’d never see again. We’re all eating our words now.

The genius of “Paranormal Activity” is more than just concept. The idea of fake footage, found by police and seemingly shown to audiences in this theatrically edited form is not new. While some people thought Blair Witch Project was real back in 1999, by 2009, the technique is now old hat and doesn’t really fool anybody. It doesn’t matter though, people want to believe its true, and thus when a film as immersive, believeable, and real as this comes along, we all revert to immature, innocent and emotionally vulnerable little children and go along for the ride. This is the effect of 'Paranormal Activity.'

Katie and Micah (actors using their real names to help blur the line between fact and fiction) are a couple attempting to document a spirit which has appeared to have taken over their house. Micah as the alpha-male forces a camera upon Katie in order to get it on record, but we suspect most likely to get rich. Katie is a girl-next-door cute innocent nave, who seems to have been haunted by this supernatural spirit on a number of occasions throughout her life.

Though Micah films everything meticulously, his affable disrespect of Katie’s trauma, and his refusal to take the situation seriously angers the spectre. A series of incidents caught on tape during the nights escalate eventually turning Micah’s doubting mind. The events are innocuous at first, a creaking door, thumping sounds, a gust of wind, slowly escalate into freakish physical confrontations with an invisible spectre.

Unless, like my colleague Greg, who managed to watch and review the film with NO information about the film at all (click HERE for his review), it’s impossible to evaluate this movie without the context of its now legendary discovery and journey to our screens and overall subversiveness in comparison to all mainstream Hollywood genre filmmaking.

If I saw this film at Slamdance without any hype, would I have the same reaction?? Maybe not. Hype aside, Paranormal is effective, plain and simple. There’s a major filmmaking talent on display here, which on quick glance would be easy to dismiss.

Essentially the guts of the film are a number of scary surveillance ghost moments seen from the same stationary camera angle. There’s only about 6 or 7 of these moments, and so Peli admirably anchors the film with the solid direction of two newbie inexperienced actors and a character-based screenplay. Peli knows his craft and admirably misdirects our attention with humour while planting seeds for some twists and turns in a cleverly woven in backstory.

Despite the success and praise of other conceptually-similar genre pictures ‘Cloverfield’, and ‘Rec/Quarantine’ the mockumentary concept, for me, always seemed to be an artificial and transparent storytelling crutch, something which distracted as opposed to enhanced the experience. ‘Paranormal Activity’ is the real deal, legit, a fully realized and credible concept entwined perfectly into Peli’s genius little film.

Back to the hype... I’d wager even knowing about the background of the film doesn’t tarnish the surprise and thrill of the picture. But watching the film at home without the big screen and the communal experience of being in a room with 300 scared teenagers is, so go and see it now.

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