Director – Oren Peli
Cast – Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs
Release Year – 2009(technically. this film was completed back in 2007)
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Geeze, where do I start with this one? This film has honestly got to be the most hyped horror film this decade, if not these last two decades. Completed back in 2007, Paranormal Activity sat on the shelves at Paramount Pictures for over a year with neither a theatrical nor DVD release date in sight. It seemed certain this film was never going to see the light of day, and we horror fans would never get to see the film so many lucky viewers were able to catch at random film festivals. Thanks to a clever marketing scheme put up by Paramount, which undoubtedly came about due to us true horror fans constantly bashing the company for not releasing this film, we are finally provided with the opportunity to see this film on the big screen where it deserves to be seen. Made on a shoestring budget with a no-name actors and a no-name director, this film is the pinnacle of independent filmmaking with the success it has garnered at the box office. But that’s not all, to make matters even more extraordinary…this film is good too.
The film’s plot is a simple one. Katie, a young student living with her day trader boyfriend Micah, has been haunted ever since childhood by some kind of demonic entity. Micah is a skeptic to this, but decides to invest in a video camera so that he can record any visual proof of such things. Every night Micah sets up the video camera in their bedroom to record any strange sounds or occurrences that may occur during the night. Every morning they watch the film and see some slight evidence to prove Katie’s case. Micah, being the playful skeptic that he is, decides to go against Katie’s extreme wishes and borrow a weija board in an attempt to communicate with the demon. His action proves to be a bad idea. He has angered the demon, and every night after that the occurrences get worse and worse and lead to a sinister plot set up by the demon.
I have honestly gotten quite tired of these faux-documentary type horror films. The Blair Witch Project opened to door to these types of films(especially THIS film) and although I really enjoyed some of them(“Rec“, “Cloverfield“), I’d like to see this “fad” slowed down a bit. Nonetheless, this film worked the faux-documentary horror sub-genre to the “T”, with a very chilling end product that is sure to force 90 percent of it’s viewers to dig up those trusty old night-lights they relied on so much as children.
This film’s beauty is it’s superb use of the classic horror element of “what you don’t see is scary” scare tactics to develop the film. Because we only get a view of what our characters are seeing(for the most part) we are left with the same confusion and paranoia as they are. To make matters even more awesome, the film slowly abandons this concept as it progresses and opts for physical type scares which are intensified thanks to it’s earlier scare development. So how is the quality of the scares? Genius. Each scare is set up by a low hum in the middle of the night, then silence, then the carnage ensues. Why genius? Because this low hum that is played before each scare sets up the viewer to be as vulnerable as possible. There are several rumors going about to what this scare is, but from what I understand it is some kind of theta-wave sound that forces the person’s body temperature and heartbeat to raise. This is an amazing scare tactic I have never before seen in film, and it works perfectly. Your heartbeat and paranoia level being raised, then dead silence when the “hum” ends is genius. It leaves you vulnerable, and waiting nervously for what is going to happen next. Whether it is nothing that happens, or it’s the film’s climax, you are scared. Paranormal Activity: 1, You: 0.
First time writer/director Oren Peli did a fantastic job with this film’s direction as well. Aside from the scare tactic success I just mentioned, he did a great job with character performances, pacing, and story. Each of our two main actors were solid for their roles and did exactly what it was that Mr. Peli needed them to do. It is obvious that Micah is supposed to be the lovable and playful boyfriend at first, and as the film progresses you are expected to slowly dislike him more and more as a result of his decisions and ignorance. Katie’s transformation is also very reminiscent of this. At first she is the lovable “girl next door” type then slowly turns to the creeper “girl outside your window” mode as the film progresses. This also plays into the story, which is meant to show the transformation and deionization of both characters. We get a few other characters thrown into the film for supplemental material, and I really wish we were able to catch a scene with the demonologist doing some kind of crazy séance. Oh well. I also really liked the story we are given about the demon. It is not much, and that is exactly what I liked. The fact this entity had been following her throughout childhood and been there with her during her darkest moments(the demon provides CHILLING proof throughout the film) is awesome, and well written. Simple, and effective.
Is there anything I did not like about this film? Not really, nothing that I will balk at much. At times I was thinking that Micah’s character was a bit too ridiculous with his decisions, but I’m sure it was intended, because there always has to be another type of conflict thrown in for the character facing a demon(Katie, in this case). It happens in all these ghost/demon flicks. Maybe Micah’s horrible decisions could have been thought out a little better, but on a shoestring budget with no money for re-shoots, you take what you can get. I won’t hate. As for the ending, I really enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, it’s awesome. BUT I would have preferred Oren Peli not have gone with the very last second of the film(before the end credits). You’ll see what I mean.
Once again this year, Hollywood is raped with the broken end of a broomstick by the financial AND critical success of a film with a no-name director, no-name cast, and a low budget. The other film to accomplish this feat this year was “District 9”, which I also have a review for. Both go to show that sincere filmmaking can also make money if you give it the chance to. Why so much emphasis on making money? Because it means more to Hollywood than the critical success of a film and it’s the only way we will get to see a film like this on the big screen. Thanks for this one Paramount, although you are two years too late.
Overall, this is a great film that I recommend to all horror fans. This film is effective in it’s horror element, and does what so many other horror flicks with budgets 100 times this one’s size fail to do, SCARE. Even non-horror fans who want to see the great success of an independent film that basically had no chance of ever seeing any type of release should check this out.
– I ranked this film #38 on my Top 50 Horror Movies of the Decade(31-40) post.