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Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity
Paramount Pictures
Rated R
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas

It’s been a little over ten years since film production and marketing history was made with The Blair Witch Project. A group of amateur filmmakers with a video camera and an idea for an ultra-low budget horror film turned their effort into an overnight mega-hit by spreading the word via the Internet. The whole concept and execution turned Hollywood upside down although subsequent efforts to duplicate the success of Blair Witch were nowhere nearly as successful. Until now.

Paranormal Activity opened slowly beginning with a handful of college towns playing only midnight shows. When word of mouth began to spread, the website for the film urged film fans to request it be shown in their town, and that when one million requests were received, the film would open wide. Mission accomplished, to coin a phrase. Not only has Paranormal Activity continued to do terrific business, but it also managed to eclipse the opening of Saw 6, the series that has dominated Halloween week business at plexes for… well… six years.

Not a bad calling card for a first time filmmaker. Oren Peli hatched the plot for his film, sketched out a script, and then spent a year learning how to edit on his computer. It was all shot on video, the only location used was Peli’s house, and legend has it that the total budget for the entire production was around $15,000. But then…just like in the movies…something pretty amazing happened. The film started creating waves of conversation on the festival circuit. Dreamworks bought it, not necessarily for distribution, but with the thought that Peli, or even another director, could remake it as a big-budget horror film. Then Steven Spielberg saw it, was impressed, and urged Paramount to release it just as it was. As of today, it appears that Paranormal Activity is likely to gross something like $100 million theatrically in the US alone. Add to that the foreign income plus DVD sales and rentals, and that shows up as a nice return on an incredibly modest investment as far as film production goes.

But the real question is: despite the hype, and the stories, and all that goes with it, is the film any good. Well, in a word, yes. It’s a simple tale of Micah and Katie, who decide after three years of dating, to move in together. Once in their home, strange things start happening. Katie confesses to Micah that it’s not the first time she’s experienced such occurrences, so he buys a video camera to record everything that goes on in the house to document any Paranormal Activity. The entire film is seen from the perspective of the camera. A psychic is consulted who senses that a demon is, for whatever reason, trying to get to Katie.

That’s pretty much it, as far as happenings that can be revealed in this review. While the script is nothing special, and the dialogue fairly trite in spots, the style of the film evokes the dread and foreboding of the classic horror films such as Cat People, The Leopard Man, or the original version of The Haunting, where all the terror is in the imagination of the viewer. There’s not a lot of characterization, but that’s ok since that’s not really the point. Micah Sloat plays his namesake in the tale and he’s a decent actor. Katie Featherston is Katie, and she’s really good. You can see the effect these events are having on her both psychologically and physically.

There are no CGI special effects, explicit gore, or fire-breathing monsters. It’s all done with sound recording and fleeting images. Did you really see that? Did you really hear that? And although the trailers have shown full houses being scared out of their wits, I had the exact opposite experience of watching it completely alone in a darkened theatre. It was creepy. While not an award-winner, Paranormal Activity should satisfy any horror movie fan with an imagination.

The R-rated Paranormal Activity is now haunting the halls of many cinemas near you.


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