|Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat in Paranormal Activity|
Director Oren Peli is an obvious fan of horror. His debut feature was made for a reported budget of just $15,000 and with it he has delivered an extremely effective and well made treat.
Paranormal Activity follows the ‘found footage’ style that was defined by and is most memorable in The Blair Witch Project. We are introduced to Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, the latter having bought the flash new camcorder with which they try to capture some of the inexplicable phenomena going on in their new house that are seemingly haunting Katie, leaving us with the ‘found footage’.
Soon enough we learn about Katie’s background and the reason Micah bought a camera to try and document the strange things that are happening to her. A visit from a psychic (Mark Fredrichs) to discuss exactly what is going on within the house nicely sets up what could be in store for the couple if they deal with the situation inappropriately. The social interactions in the film, particularly between Katie and Micah, become more and more interesting as you are aware of the screw slowly turning on their relationship. Micah is the typical, blasé boyfriend who wants to do things his way (watch for the Ouija board) as he attempts to communicate with the unknown in order to solve the problem. Katie, however, is reluctant to take any action.
This film is as much about human relationships in times of stress and dismay as it is a ‘found footage’ horror film and that is instrumental in keeping the film believable and, more importantly, relatable. This believable element continues when the evidences of paranormal activity going on in the house grows. Peli is in no rush to deliver anything big either, all the horror essentials are there: a creaking door, a swaying chandelier, shadows, deep noises etc... and are delivered with a subtlety and simplicity that add to the daunting aesthetic and makes it genuinely thrilling. It is no mistake that the majority of the unnatural goings-on happen in the bedroom covered by the static camera. This is the films genius; as you watch the bedroom, you are immediately drawn in, expectant and wary of what will happen so that when it does, it is so much scarier due to its reality and simplicity.
The final third moves along nicely and picks up the ante toward the finale as the escalating tension between the two main characters is developed, leading to a fantastic set piece tying everything together in a truly chilling way (if slightly marred by an unneeded use of CGI). Another problem with the film is the apparent editing in the footage and short transitions in dialogue sequences that really shouldn’t be there in playback of the footage.
It goes against this review by encouraging you to watch ‘Paranormal Activity’ with little information or knowledge about the plot so that it can truly deliver. There are a few alternative endings floating around already that I’ve heard of but I prefer this cinema edit (note the clever exclusion of end credits too). It’s a shame it wasn’t released for Halloween as it’s guaranteed to delight horror fans and will get the girls hiding in your shoulder!