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

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Paranormal Activity

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


By Alan Bacchus

'Paranormal Activity' was 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.

"Paranormal Activity" is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment


Unknown said...

No movie has ever effected me quite like this one did, and to think that it was done with almost zero special effects is amazing. For several nights after seeing it I didn't sleep well at all. I asked a few of my friends, off the cuff, if it had effected them too, and eventually everyone admitted that it did. All I can say is: It did what it set out to do better then any horror movie has ever done before it.

Anonymous said...

The movie was great and so was the story line. Remember those scary nights watching "Nightmare On Elm Street," curled and covered up in a blanket. Well, that was my shield. at the end my heart was pumping and i didn't sleep well after the movie.
None of my friends have seen the movie yet.

Anonymous said...

I dont know if I would call this movie scary, but it was the most disturbing movie I've ever saw. Not only did I not sleep at night for days, but when I started sleeping again, I had to have the light on. I think it was the illusion of reality that freaked me out so much. If I had of known it was fake, it wouldnt have affected me.

Anonymous said...

No movie has effectively disturbed me on such a profound level. I have forever been a fan of horror movies and novels. I have seen/read them all-really. Actually I haven't been this freaked out by a movie sense I saw steven kings "salem's lot" when I was 13. It's not so much scarey to watch-really! It just gets under you skin kinda like "the grudge" did for many people. It was weird. In the theater when the movie ended(with no credits to speak of)everybody just sat there for a while,all quite. Then everybody just slowly and quitely left-like zombies! It was odd. Well any who-enjoy! Matthew from Boise,Idaho

Anonymous said...

I heard the hype. I was under the impression it was "more real" than fake. Then I watched it. I did not find it scary or disturbing. If was trying to be real - I saw quite a few holes.

IMO - not great. Maybe good to scare teens.

Anonymous said...

This movie sucked!!! I was more scared I would run out of beer while watching it. I rented it because people said it was "the scariest movie ever". I didn't believe that at all but gave it a chance. An hour and a half of my life I'll never get back. The movie was predictable, the dialogue horrible, and it's been done before. GARBAGE!!!