Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: First "Paranormal Activity" Flick a Goose Flesh Generator

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 11 (of 2009) by Leroy Douresseaux

Paranormal Activity (2007/2009)
Running time: 86 minutes (1 hour, 26 minutes)
MPAA – R for language
PRODUCERS: Oren Peli and Jason Blue


Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Ashley Palmer, and Amber Armstrong

Late summer, 10 years ago, The Blair Witch Project, a very low-budget horror flick, hit movie theatres after several months of buzz about it being one of the scariest movies ever. Ten years later, another micro-budget, handmade horror film hit theatres. Made for $11,000 and shot in the director’s house, Paranormal Activity, a thoroughly modern haunted house thriller, delivers more chills than Blair Witch – at least for me.

Paranormal Activity takes place in the two-story San Diego home of day trader, Micah (Micah Sloat), and his college student, live-in girlfriend, Katie (Katie Featherston). Katie claims that she has been plagued by a demonic spirit, on and off, since she was a child. Lately, this spirit seems to have returned, so Micah decides to use a video camera to record evidence that this spirit is real. The couple joke and bicker, but as we watch them sleep, via the camera mounted at a fixed angle in their sparsely lit bedroom, we see that something is wrong in that house. The time-code on the camera races by, except when it stops to a crawl and records freaky disturbances.

In a slow-building, but relentless way, director Oren Peli makes sure the viewer sees more than audiences ever saw in Blair Witch. Of course, Paranormal Activity is shot on a video camera (sometimes hand-held and other times stationary). Unlike other movies shot with hand-held cameras carried by the actors, the jerky movement is not distracting. The camera always seems to capture the environment in a way that makes it interesting. To make things chilling, creepy, freaky, and terrifying, Peli dabs his little-film-that-could with troublesome light switches and are-they-really-there shadows. He layers that with a clever use of sound – creeks, bumps, footsteps, and mumbling – which recalls two 1973 fear flicks, The Exorcist and The Legend of Hell House.

This narrative, however, is not executed with perfection. Without giving away the story, some of the action is implausible, not the supernatural elements, but the way the characters react to the supernatural. Sometimes Micah and Katie are incomprehensibly blasé about things that should have them running for the hills.

On the other hand, I found Micah and Katie to be extremely likable characters (something I didn’t find with the Blair Witch characters). Micah, obnoxious in an endearing way, is supremely confident both in his ability to find out things and in the decisions he makes. Katie is both sweet and bristly, but seems like a young woman who is used to getting by the bumps in life. Micah seems like a bump in her life, and because she’s gotten by his less attractive traits, the two actually seem to work as a couple. Those who buy into this two will certainly buy into their struggle with the paranormal that has come into their normal.

So a novice director with a shoestring of a shoestring budget and two semi-pro actors have given us one of the best scary movies in recent years. The atmosphere of fear is so real, and Paranormal Activity is so the real deal.

7 of 10

Sunday, November 15, 2009


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