fri 03/12/2021

Film: Paranormal Activity | reviews, news & interviews

Film: Paranormal Activity

Film: Paranormal Activity

Heart-stopping terror-fest or whole lotta hype?

Demonic interference was ruining poor Katie's complexion

Low-budget horror movie, comprising supposedly "found" video footage depicting freaky supernatural events...  it's Blair Witch 2!

Indeed, writer/director Oren Peli has taken discount film-making to new extremes, using his own home in San Diego as his sole location, restricting the cast to five (I can't even remember the "Girl on Internet" mentioned in the cast list), and bringing the piece home for a ridiculous $15,000.

Thanks to some cunning marketing, including special midnight screenings (so spooky!) and some viral internet action, Paranormal Activity's earnings have already breached the $100m threshold. And the bad news? It's not very good.
At least Peli can't be accused of needlessly over-complicating the plot. When young middle-class couple Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) move into a new home, they find themselves discomfited by strange noises in the night. Micah buys himself a video camera to capture evidence of whatever it is making those weird creaks and bangs. Things go from bad to worse. End of. Actually Peli does introduce one innovation to the hyper-cheap genre, by keeping the camera static at the foot of the couple's bed to record what happens while they're asleep. At least those portions of footage are free from the motion-sickness jitter that made, for instance, the lo-fi monster movie Cloverfield barely watchable (another wild night for Katie and Micah, below)
Para_bedroom_tv1Elsewhere, Peli sticks slavishly to the simplest principles. The tension barely seems to ratchet up at all for the first 45 minutes, then gradually the unseen demon becomes grouchier and more menacing. The bedroom door slams instead of merely moving a couple of inches. When Mica sprinkles powder on the floor, the Thing obligingly leaves what look like cloven hoofprints. After something unseen grabs Katie's leg and drags her out of bed, the going gets rough.
Perversely, it seems to be the sheer predictability of the story that audiences are responding to, as if ritual given a superficial re-spray can easily trump innovation. The crowd I saw it with reacted to each episode of creepiness with theatrical screams, exclamations of shock or nervous laughter, and psychologists would doubtless tell us that the frisson of shared peril taps into our most primitive instincts.
But horror movies frequently depend on the idiocy of the protagonists, and in order to make the narrative stretch to 85 minutes, Peli has had to make Micah an Olympic-class bonehead. Katie's increasingly panicky warnings that he's provoking the demon by perpetually filming it go unheeded, and his response to the supernatural terror is a sort of chippy petulance. Even when It begins to display ominous destructive potential, for instance by slashing his photograph on the wall, Micah still runs around the house shouting at it in farcical displays of college-jock bravado.
In fact analysis is best avoided, since a minimum of rational thought (in daylight of course) exposes gaping fissures in Paranormal's architecture. Despite the mounting sense of threat, Micah and Katie make barely any effort to help themselves (most people would have tried moving out of the house, though of course that's difficult when there's no budget for additional locations). They do call in a psychic (Mark Fredrichs), but his sole role in the drama is to say "hey, this is really bad, you'll have to call a real demonologist" before fleeing through the front door. And as for the central notion of the video recordings of the sleeping couple, nobody could possibly have got a wink of sleep with such an uncouth and malevolent interloper in the house.
There were plans to remake Paranormal Activity as a big-budget major release, but Peli must be doing cartwheels of joy that they weren't realised. If the film had been deprived of its low-rent underdog status, there wouldn't have been a lot left to recommend it.
  • Paranormal Activity is on general release from 25 November
 
 
 

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters