Sunday, August 15, 2010
DVD Review--Paranormal Activity
I have been watching horror movies for most of my life.
Because of that, I find that it is often difficult for me to be actually frightened by a film; I’m just so used to the conventions of the horror genre (“jaded”, I suppose you could say), that most horror movies, even the very good ones, are just “cool” to me, not “scary”.
So I am always pleasantly surprised when I come upon a film that does scare me, and when I find one that actually haunts me--one that stays in my mind and leaves traces of unease several days after I see it--I latch onto it and quickly make it a favorite.
Paranormal Activity is just such a film for me.
Katie and Micah are a young couple that move into a tract house in suburban California. Katie believes that she has been haunted since her youth by an unseen presence, and she believes that presence has followed her to the home she now shares with Micah.
Micah goes out and buys a camera to record the events unfolding in their home, despite Katie’s obvious discomfort with the idea.
The activity recorded on the film starts out slow and fairly typical—keys that were left on the counter are on the floor the next morning, the bedroom door opens and closes of its own accord while the couple sleeps, a light at the end of the hall turns on and off by itself—but quickly escalates when Micah taunts and challenges the presence in a “That all you got?” kind of way, going so far as to bring in a Ouija board (which greatly angers Katie) to communicate with it.
What starts out kind of creepy grows into outright terror.
Where this film truly excels is its use of what you don’t see. The entire darkened house beyond the bedroom is a character in its own right, filled with silent malevolence all the more frightening because you know something is there, something is happening, that you just...can’t...see.
"Horror" is Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger or the Wolfman jumping through a door or window to attack you. It certainly has its place, and can be fun.
But "terror"—ah, terror is staring at a closed door, knowing that something is on the other side, but not knowing what it is or what it will do when it finally gets in, and waiting…waiting…waiting…
This film uses both, to great advantage.
Watching Paranormal Activity alone, in a darkened house, I found myself constantly on edge, waiting and not seeing, anticipating so intensely that when something happened—“The Boo”,as I call it—I could not help but have a visceral, gut-level “Oh my Lord” kind of reaction.
It was filmed by director Oren Peli in his own home, using a retroscripting technique in which the actors are given not a script, but a general outline of events to react to (a technique used in The Blair Witch Project, another personal favorite). Because of this, the dialogue flows naturally, and the chemistry between the actors makes it very easy to believe that they are real people who have known each other for years.
I give Paranormal Activity four out of five stars: one star is taken away because of two scenes in which visual effects are used, and this pulled me away from the “reality” of the movie. A scene in which the Ouija board catches fire, and the very last seconds of the theatrical ending threaten to reinstall the disbelief that remains so easily suspended throughout the rest of the film. Any other effects used are very low-key and subtle, actually enhancing the creepiness.
I recommend the alternate ending included on the DVD release; it feels more authentic and is more satisfying (to me, at least).
Bottom line, I loved this movie because it made me—for only the second or third time in my adult life—nervous about walking through my house alone at night.
See it. But as the poster advertises, you might not want to see it alone.