Very few horror films have that certain spark that can shock and awe these days. Paranormal Activity shocked, awed, and hung with the best of them. This micro-budget – and we’re talking micro-budget of $15,000 – reminded audiences that we can be scared back into theaters once more. With Blair Witch like intentions, this found footage horror sends chills down your spine and turns your skin white as a ghost.
Created by first time writer/director Oren Peli, Paranormal Activity explores the life of a San Diego couple whose lives may not turn out to be so sunny after the events which occur in the “found footage.” For the sake of authenticity, both characters use the first names of their actors played by Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. They also try to play up the “found” aspect of the film, Paramount expresses thanks to the families of the two main characters.
The story begins with Micah, a day trader, explaining what his intentions for filming are. In these found footage films, we need to believe in why they are capturing everything on tape, and Paranormal Activity certainly does a good job of that. There is a certain “presence” that Micah wants to investigate and he may find that he has gotten himself in way over his head. His girlfriend Katie, a college student, has grown up with these disturbances throughout her life, and now it is Micah’s mission to get to the bottom of this.
Throughout Paranormal Activity, we slowly learn about Micah, but mostly about Katie. The beginning of the film has a lot of exposition about Katie’s past experiences. We find out as a child, growing up with her sister Kristi, these occurances have happened periodically throughout her life since she was eight-years old. Paranormal Activity paves the road from nicely to earn their trust as actors, attaching yourself to Katie and Micah as we follow them step by step into this nightmare.
Katie and Micah are very isolated and we never see too many interactions with other characters, not even a phone call with a relative. The audience is stuck with these two. But thanks to good direction by Peli and believable acting from Katie and Micah, the performances are done well. Having only these two characters to interact with one another really gives them the chance to develop as a couple.
Despite the confinement to just one set, there is a great sense of environment early on when we see Micah working his camera. We get a good establishment of our surroundings inside and are never confused on where someone or something may be. There is never, at any moment, a feeling of movie magic interfering with the faux-documentary to go outside the bounds of reality. And although this is a found footage film, the camera work is fairly steady and never instills a sense of motion sickness like the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. One drawback to the handycam shooting is the low sound quality.
The build up to the climax is slow, but the payoff is very well worth the wait. You don’t need a strong film viewing endurance to get to the end, but patience is a virtue. Horror movies these days always introduce a dead body here, a rolling head there, but Paranormal Activity is the textbook definition of a slow burn. As the film runs along, the sequences become more frightening and the use of effects with the budget they work with is astounding.
The scares may be subtle movements of furniture or sounds creaking in the house, but Paranormal Activity has such a grand element of believability that you feel like you are in the house right along with Micah and Katie, experiencing every second. Predictability never plays a factor, and it always leaves you guessing what will happen next, which creates immense tension for the final moments of the film.
Ultimately, Paranormal Activity is amazingly fresh compared to the Saw franchise or any of the other recent horror remakes we have received. This film proves that you do not need to be flashy, create fake-out scares, or provide shrieking violins to terrify your viewers. This film will be one to remember down the road and is one of the best found footage films to date. Paranormal Activity has added a new rung on the horror genre ladder for many filmmakers to climb up and stray away from the highly sought after torture porn.