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  • Movie: Paranormal Activity
  • Starring: Micah Sloat, Katie Featherston, and Mark Frederichs
  • Written By: Oren Peli
  • Directed By: Oren Peli
  • Distributor: Paramount Pictures
  • Series:


Paranormal Acitvity vs. Blair Witch: Shaky Cam Done Right

By Rob Vaux     October 11, 2009

Paranormal Activity Review(2009).
© Paramount Pictures


I never bought the hype surrounding The Blair Witch Project, a vaguely interesting genre exercise undone by praise far in excess of its modest charms. It worked mainly by turning budgetary limitations into a genuine stylistic asset… and unfortunately convinced a thousand would-be auteurs that the only thing they needed to make a good horror movie was a hand-held camera and a cast with a knack for improv.
Now comes Paranormal Activity, which follows the Blair Witch playbook step for step (right down to the hype that can't quite be believed). Unlike Blair Witch, however, this film backs its rep up with genuinely good filmmaking, transforming another point-and-shoot horror quickie into a peerless exercise in stimulus response. Writer-director Oren Peli uses a bag of very old tricks--creaky floorboards, shapes on the wall and the ubiquitous bumps in the night--to generate his chills. But he deploys them with such mastery that you're scarcely aware of how effective they are until they've grabbed you by the throat.
He also borrows a few pages from Hitchcock by transforming mundane surroundings into the stuff of nightmare. In this case, it's a pleasant San Diego home occupied by a young couple on their way up. Micah (Micah Sloat) works as a day trader and thinks he has the world by the balls. Katie (Katie Featherston) is happy to enjoy the fruits of his wealth while studying to be a schoolteacher. Sadly, she also has a secret: her past has been periodically troubled by supernatural visitations. It's nothing life-threatening--a few shades and moans here and there--but lately the incidents have been getting worse, prompting Micah to buy a camera in hopes of capturing something on film. The act triggers more serious manifestations, as well as increasing evidence that this spectral visitor has nothing good in store for the young couple.
Peli makes his bread and butter by hitting us where we sleep… literally. Micah points the camera at their bed every night, recording the entity's ever-more horrific activities around their sleeping forms. The psychological impact can't be underestimated, reminding us how vulnerable we are when we slumber and striking at the very place we instinctively head towards for safety. It doesn't take much. The bedroom door swings ominously open and closed, footsteps can be heard on the stairway outside, and the yawning shadows enshrouding the bedroom conjure more terrors than any make-up studio could ever hope for. Paranormal Activity remains largely in the realm of plausibility, taking the sort of incidents found in Ghost Hunters and pushing them just a step or two closer to the concrete.
It also adds a pair of victims who immediately sell us on their veracity. They behave very normally, with off-the-cuff dialogue stressing natural rhythms and an easy chemistry between the actors that quickly conveys their characters' history. Micah is frankly a dick, with the answers to everything even when he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. He treats the intruding spirit like a cool new toy--even buying an Ouija board after Katie tells him not to--and his frat-boy swagger seems to actively invite the trouble that befalls them. Katie acknowledges the danger they're in much more readily, even calling in a psychic (Mark Frederichs) to offer advice. Their natural rhythms allow the film to present itself as fact, with the credits replaced by a special thank-you to the couple's "families" for use of the footage. That blurry line makes the terror all the more difficult to deny.
And Paranormal Activity has little on its mind beyond sending a goose or three across our graves. It holds no thematic complexity and its straightforward scenario requires no bells and whistles to carry it through. It simply knows how to get inside our skin, utilizing pure craftsmanship to achieve what a thousand more expensive productions couldn't hope for. I'm very hard to scare and it got more than a few serious jumps out of me (including a finale that should have you sleeping with the lights on for a month). The hype surrounding it is insufferable, of course, and may provoke a backlash similar to that of Blair Witch. It has the chops to stand against the vagaries of public opinion, however; divorced from its pop culture context, it still scares the crap out of you and while multiple viewings may diminish those returns, it has officially announced itself as the spookhouse to beat this fall. Take a look before you're sick to death of hearing about it; for once, the indiscriminate praise is really onto something.


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Skroin 10/11/2009 6:20:19 PM

I've been wanting to see this ever since I've heard about it.

*sigh* If only the movie was playing in my town.....


themovielord 10/11/2009 6:57:22 PM

It hit a million hits, or whatever, on its web site so get ready it's coming every where. Awesome movie! Perfect for October!

peak37pt 10/11/2009 7:56:35 PM

 So far I've been pleased with the scary films I've seen this October! It's exciting for me, and I'm sure I don't need to explain that to you maniacs :) 

So far Cthulhu, Trick R Treat, Dog Soldiers, Pandorum (I thought it was a kick ass sci-fi film) and this is suppose to be awesome, and I'll see it this weekend. Also, I love the Saw films (I know, sorry, but I love the twisted story it is, even though I don't like gore), and saw 6 should be fun!

Anyone have any other newish horror films they can recommend?


Phetus 10/11/2009 10:46:19 PM

First I'd like to preface my comment by saying that this review was extremely well written, it was objective, with none of the incredible muck raking disguised as "passionate" reviews that we've seen here in the past.

yeah i hid a compliment in there somewhere man, but kudos.


Anyways, having just seen this for the second night in a row this weekend, I must say that this movie was extremely well done. The "reality horror" genre seems to be doing well, after the Blair Witch backlash following the horrendous Book of Shadows. Given the sudden boom of paranormal related shows that populate the airwaves, its no surprise that a film like this comes along and as I noticed in the crowd tonight, people dont read at movies. Its a film so realistic that while it is fiction, it is as close to an actual incident as it comes. 

But I fear that once people realize that it was just a movie, they'll have that same disappointment we all did when Blair Witch was declared a hoax, and thus, just another low budget film. Its that reality that people relate with, if they believe it could happen to an average couple, as PA depicts, than it could happen to you.  This illusion, coupled with the jumpy suspense and at times perfectly timed moments that made you jump. 

overall, the film was done well, lets just hope we dont see "Paranormal Activity 2: Demons among Us."

needaname85 10/12/2009 3:08:03 AM

Great review...drove 45 minutes to see it at the only theater in the KC area over the weekend. I didn't want to wait another week.

It was completly worth it. Clammy palms and sweat beading on my forehead, it runs circles around Blair Witch. Nearly jumped out of my seat at the end. It manages to scare the shit out of you even when you know certain things are coming. It just waits an extra second or two and has you completly in its grasp. I may or may not see it again just because I enjoyed it so much the first time.

Great moviegoing experience.

Chopsaki 10/12/2009 4:53:45 AM

I guess I'll have to check this out.

TigerPrime 10/12/2009 6:33:39 AM

Where in KC is it playing?!?!?

superrichtheman 10/12/2009 9:11:44 AM

The movie is pretty creepy and just lingers w/ you for a few days.  It just seems more plausible.

It follows a great rule more horror movies should use; less is more.  What you don't see is more frightening.

The only thing that annoyed me was the logic of the dude. If you saw your door close by itself, you would shit yourself and run for the hills.

silversurfer 10/12/2009 9:28:17 AM

I will definitely have to bump this up on the sister saw it, and she was having some issues....but she thought it was way cool.....

acidsquall73 10/12/2009 9:30:41 AM


Superrichtheman, we thought about that kind of stuff too, but them revealing that it was following her and not just in the house, kind of eliminated the whole "dude, run" scenario. Closer to the end, that theory had to completely come into play since they weren't leaving even after the dragging thing. All I can think about is her standing over the bed. That goes through my head and just creeps me out.

**********END SPOILERS*********


All I can say about Paranormal Activity is that I'm still having a hard time sleeping. A movie that can do that to me is well worth it. The movie is extremely well done and as far as I'm concerned, I knew it was fiction going in and it was still effective. But just in case, when people ask me if it's real or not, I just tell them to judge for

I'm totally glad it more than lived up to the hype.

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