Monday, October 26, 2009


Paranormal Activity is a new ghost story thriller that shares a lot with the infamous Blair Witch Project from a decade ago. Executed on a shoestring budget Paranormal Activity is shot mostly with a hand held digital camera in what's supposed to be a series of home movies taken by new home owners Micah and Katie. While shooting the goings on of being a new couple in a new home the two attractive yuppies are suddenly barraged by what Katie thinks is a haunting. From there on the audience is subjected to chills and thrills through the eyes of Micah's camera lens.

Being an objective critic I knew going in that most of the "scariest movie ever" tag lines were just empty hype so I was prepared for that. What I wasn't prepared for was how incredibly boring Paranormal Activity is, how absolutely nothing happens until a ludicrous ending that made the Blair Witch Project seem like Citizen Kane in comparison. When the movie ended I was shocked, not by the content but by the fact it was over. Something else had to happen right? There had to be more right? Nope, that was it, credits started and the movie was all done. That was actually the most shocking part of the movie.

Paranormal Activity fails on three basic levels. The first is that the film never actually starts, it's a series of beginnings that just peter out. The noises, the creepy moving doors, the sounds, they all seem to tell of something really bad coming that never comes. I sat and waited for this dark entity to manifest itself and instead I got another creaking door. The lack of anything actually becoming of all these precursor haunts makes whatever this evil is seem pretty rudimentary and that saps the fear right out of it. How can you be afraid of a ghost that has the same schtick as Casper or Slimer.

Don't get me wrong I know this is a low budget movie so I wasn't expecting a full fire and brimstone demon arrival but there needed to be something besides footsteps, thumps and creaking doors. A shadow that moved, even the sounds of destruction and then finding the aftermath. Something that allowed us to feel in our bones how awful this entity is or is becoming. The one kind of scary part involving Katie being carried off looks more like something Conan would do to his new lover than the actions of a dark spirit. The darkness that's spreading never really manifests into anything that moves us to be truly afraid.

The second problem comes with how the movie is filmed. It's not that the whole hand held thing is an issue it just isn't handled well here. Micah uses the camera so much, films so much unnecessary footage that halfway through Paranormal Activity you feel like he's shooting a real movie not just trying to film the experiences he and Katie are going through. Once that set in I was constantly taken out of movie by my brain saying things like "Wow, these look like pick up shots." Then there's the fact that ninety percent of the "scares" happen through one angle. The camera sits at the far end of Micah and Katie's bedroom cloaked in "night vision". As soon as you see that angle you know something spooky is going to happen which pretty much saps the tension right out of the film.

The third problem with the film is that filmmakers not fully committing to making this a realistic film. They want to make it seem as though this really happened to such a degree that they don't allow it to happen organically. First the filmmakers thank the families and the police for allowing them to use this "footage" for the movie. Yeah, sorry, at no point would cops let footage like this be used for a motion picture, especially one where college kids were being filmed watching it in order to start an online frenzy.

The filmmakers also toss in this unnecessary plot point having to do with Katie's past that ruins the idea of how awful things randomly happen to good people. The plot point feels forced as if the director/writer watched the final cut and got scared people would pull an Amityville Horror and scream "Get the fuck out of the house" so he tossed in this plot point to avoid that. It's a cheap cop out for a tiny problem that could've been solved any number of ways.

Essentially Paranormal Activity is much like the Emperor's New Clothes; there's a lot of bells and whistles but nothing really there. You never care about Micah or Katie and you never really fear this dark entity that's haunting them. Sure there are a couple of cool jumps but that's about it. If creaking doors and thumps in the night render you speechless with fear then this might be a film you'll find terrifying. For anybody else the scariest thing about Paranormal Activity is that it sucks away 90 minutes of your life you'll never get back.

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