Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Director/Writer: Oren Peli
Released: Paramount Pictures (2009)
Okay, I've finally seen it. The movie so many have called the best horror movie of 2009. Hell, a few have labeled it the best horror movie of the decade. The praise and publicity this movie received is as insane as any I've seen for a movie. I have to admit though, this was a darned good movie. You know when some people describe a film as "pulse pounding"? Well, that's literally how I could describe Paranormal Activity because there were a couple of moments where my pulse actually quickened--I don't react like that often for a movie.
I think it was on The Vault of Horror a while back that I read an apt line on this movie: This is the movie The Blair Witch Project was meant to be.
I liked Blair Witch when it first came out. It's appeal has lessened greatly in the decade-plus since it came out, though. The thing about that movie was it was all a long setup with a couple scares and a gripping ending. Paranormal Activity took better strides at getting into the suspense faster, building it steadier through the whole story, and hammering the audience at the very end.
Katie and Micah have been living together in a house for a while, but they've been noticing some strange phenomena at night like footsteps and faucets and lights seemingly turning themselves on and off. Micah gets the bright idea to videotape it as a way to collect evidence--and some notoriety online. Katie seeks out a psychic of sorts, who tells her that he deals with ghosts and it looks like she's got a demon. And there's the little twist of this from the beginning, because it's not a ghost or spirit haunting the house, but a demon or some other malevolent entity haunting Katie.
The majority of the film is shown through Micah's eyes in a sense, as he carries the camera around most of the time or sets it up on a tripod. And Micah is a douche. He's dismissive, arrogant, and condescending through a lot of the film, even after he has realized that he's recording a genuine supernatural event. As a matter of fact, it's Micah's treatment of Katie that drives the tension in this movie as much or more than the demon terrorizing his girlfriend. It didn't take very long for me to start rooting for his demise, much in the same way I rooted for the demise of the camera operator in Cloverfield (a far more irritating character).
The great thing about this movie doesn't come from the acting, as the home movie approach felt artificial to me a lot of the time. And the moments of terror become a bit repetitive, at least in the sense that disembodied foot steps wear a little thin. The great thing is that this horror movie brings the experience down to a very personal level that's easy to relate to. I'm not a fan of the "home movie" approach to film making because it's so often poorly executed, but it's used to great effect here. The effects aren't grandiose or designed to gross out the audience, but used in a rather subtle fashion to accentuate the tone of the story. One understated use of sound I particularly liked, involving a change in Katie's voice in a scene--like me, you may need to rewind the movie a few seconds to be sure you heard it.
Go see this movie if you haven't already. It's worth watching, even if you're not a fan of horror. Be warned that there is talk a sequel is already in the works to be released this coming Halloween to go against Saw VII. I'm nervous about that because there is a strong chance of a sequel falling flat on its face. The initial shock and awe of the first film is spent and it won't be possible to catch lightening in a bottle a second time. Remember how Hollywood thought Blair Witch 2 was a good idea?