Title: Paranormal Activity (2009)
Director: Oren Peli
So every once in a while an indie movie comes along that gets people talking all about how it was made for so little and how good it is. Blair Witch Project (1999) generated this kind of buzz when it first came out and it got peoples attention so much that it quickly became one of the most successful independent movies ever made. In my book, Blair Witch Project succeeded because it managed to get people freaked, without actually showing them the freaking witch! That film effecitvely played with audiences minds, without actually showing anyone anything, it's in that sense a very suggestive film, it simply suggest that something really awful is just behind that door, or in your bed. The exact same thing happened a while back with an independent film called Open Water (2004) though, to be honest, I have to say I wasn’t too impressed with that one, I actually felt cheated. But such is the nature of the ultra low budget film. Sometimes they are magic, sometimes they are not. Now here comes Paranormal Activity, another ultra indie, made with very little money. Is it a good indie horror film? Or will you feel cheated after watching it?
Story concerns a young couple named Micah and Katie. Katie says that she has been haunted by an entity since she was 8 years old and that it still haunts her and does things to bother her. Micah is the incurable skeptic, he wants to tape every second of Katie’s life to see if he can capture any of these supernatural events on film. In reality, he thinks that nothing is going to happen, he just wants to help his girlfriend get over the whole thing. But slowly and surely supernatural events begin to take place, until well, it’s a full blown supernatural attack!
So the story behind this movie is that the director, one Oren Peli, made this film way back in 2007 with only fifteen thousand dollars. He shopped it around to a couple of distributors hoping that some producer would notice the film and buy it. For a while, nothing happened. But then the film fell on Steven Spielberg’s lap, and he loved it. Spielberg states that when he saw Paranormal Activity, he thought it was really haunted because after watching it, the doors in his room locked by themselves and he couldn’t get out until he called a locksmith. Publicity stunt on Spielbergs part? Either way, the film ended up in theaters and here it is, finally, in 2009. Halloween. How was the movie?
Well, I gotta tell you, I went into the theater with very low expectations. I had read reviews everywhere, and everyone was hailing it as this fantastically scary movie that was going to blow my mind. So I of course, took precautions and went in with really low expectations. I decided I was not gonna let other peoples ideas of the film get in the way of how I saw it. I wanted to see if the movie could grab me on its own, and possibly scare me? So, it started, and low and behold, when supernatural events begin to occur, I found myself saying “holy shit!” quite a few times. Which is something I do when something kind of impacts me in a film. The “holy shit!” factor went to about 10 by the time the movie was over; yes my friends, this movie actually managed to spook me. And check this out, I don’t even believe in ghosts or demons! I’m a complete non believer! Yet the movie told its story so well, that it managed to spook the hell out of me.
That’s how you know if a movie is good or not! What worked so well in this film? Well, of course what helps it a lot is the way it was shot. Director Oren Peli decided to use hand held video cameras to shoot the thing. Which was a fantastic idea, because suddenly, everything feels that much more real. Thing with movies shot on video cameras is that they feel like something you and I could have shot ourselves. Like a family home video. It just brings it closer to home. You can identify more with it. Now, I know that this hand held shaky cam thing has been abused to death in many films recently, and it can get annoying at times, testing the limits of your stomach. But I have to say that I was glad that this movie did not abuse the hand held effect. More often then not, the camera is simply placed on a tripod or on a table as the events unfold in front of it. So Im happy to say that the film is not the kind that will make you sick to the stomach because of the shaky cam effect.
As for the performances, the two new comers, Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston (the actors real names by the way) have a great chemistry together. The film benefits from having very realistic dialog. The actors were simply given an outline to follow and they were allowed to improvise most of the film which gives the dialog a more believable flow. We all hate that fake sounding scripted dialog, thankfully, this is nowhere to be seen in this movie. Micah and Katie feel like your regular young couple, they are not these ultra hot Hollywood model types. Nope, they are regular folk like you and me. Katie might be hot, but she is so in a very natural way. So you can rest easy knowing you are not gonna see bogus performances just because the film was made with so little money.
As for the scare factor, I gotta tell ya, if you believe in demons, spirits, the supernatural or anything related to the ideas of paranormal activity, then this movie will scare your pants off. I can tell you this because I used to be a religious person, and I believed there were invisible entities peering at me from "the great beyond". I used to think that an invisible force would grab me by the feet at night as I slept and all that. And I can tell you, this movie plays with all these ideas, and it does it so well that it spooked even this jaded non believer! It takes all those fears you have about Ouija boards and demons and hearing voices in the middle of the night and feeling that slight cold breeze run past by you and brings them to cinematic reality. It will play with your mind!
This film is getting compared a lot to Blair Witch Project, and though there are some technical similarities that have to do with the way both films were made, they are ultimately very different in execution because where Blair Witch Project showed you nothing, this one does. You will see supernatural events unfold before your very eyes, what makes them scary is that they play with the idea of this supernatural events happening within the comfort of your bedroom! As you sleep! What I loved most about this film is that it manages to tell this supernatural themed film without the aid of any cgi or computer generated effects like the CGI demons in the god awful excuse for a horror film Drag Me To Hell. Paranormal Activity also has a lot in common with The Amytiville Horror (1979). Same as that film, this one is about a couple moving into a house, and supernatural events begin to upset them, disrupting their peace. They have an expert on the supernatural visit them, its all very similar, only thing is that Paranormal Activity doesnt go into cheesy territory the way The Amytiville Horror did at times. The film did have one inside joke that some horror fans might pick up on. At one point, when a supernatural event occurs, it happens at 3:15, the exact same time that supernatural events occured in The Amytiville Horror. So I guess that right there is an indication of just what film Oren Peli was most influenced by.
So in conclusion, yeah, it will scare you, even more so if you believe in the supernatural. Go see it, it’s a great scary film. And a testament to the fact that you don’t need gazillions of dollars to make an entertaining and gripping film.
Rating: 4 out of 5