In an age when CGI ghosts, stuttering jump cuts and endless remakes dominate the fright flick field, first-time writer-director Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity embraces spooky simplicity.
Made for less than the cost of a new car, Paranormal Activity reiterates what The Blair Witch Project proved a decade ago: The bump-in-the-night things we can’t see are still the most frightening. Though not as deeply disturbing as its predecessor in hand-held horror, Paranormal Activity is terrifying enough to keep hardened horror fans awake at night. Here’s the setup this time around…
Young couple Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are plagued by spooky happenings in their new home: Strange noises, doors that open and close of their own accord, small items that mysteriously turn up places other than where they were left the night before. Micah buys a video camera to document the goings-on and prove they’re not just imagining things… and trust me, they’re not. The story is standard-issue haunting stuff, but Peli’s meticulous set up and execution infuse the familiar formula with vivid, terrifying life.
We only see footage shot by Micah and Katie over the course of three weeks, and the action is confined to their house, Peli quickly establishes a pattern: During the day, Katie and Micah discuss the goings on and bicker about what to do about it; at night they set up their camera and go to sleep. The paranormal action takes place during these night-time hours, and as the spooky events increase in frequency and intensity, the movie becomes almost unbearably frightening. Inexplicable pounding noises and door slamming escalate to footsteps, violence and much, much more: Once the night-cam goes on, you’ll be holding your breath, as anxious for the relative safety of daylight as Micah and Katie.
There are no computer-generated spooks, no ectoplasmic messes, no fancy edits; Paranormal Activity is all about dark corners and that queasy, pit-of-the-stomach you get when you wake up in the dead of night, convinced you heard something. The movie is all tension, dread-filled atmosphere and genuine, goose bump-inducing chills. Because it’s structured as a glimpse into a brief moment in Micah and Katie’s lives, we never get to know much about them, and yes, the acting is sometimes dodgy. But these are small gripes: Peli’s goal is to scare the bejesus out of you (something most contemporary horror movies don’t even attempt) and he succeeds admirably as Paranormal Activity is one of the most genuinely frightening horror movies of recent years.Read More