Monday, November 9, 2009

Paranormal Activity

There are enough spoilers in this review to warrant a warning to anyone that has not yet seen the film...sorry.

When you have a movie such as Paranormal Activity, you are going to run into a wide variety of reactions from an even wider variety of people. Whether it be genre fans, or just your average casual moviegoer, it is almost fascinating what one person finds frightening and another person doesn't. Much like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity is a story of success, a story of simplicity delivered through a means created by budgetary restraints and a desire to make a movie no matter how many roadblocks were faced. And of course, the desire to scare people.

Written and directed by Oren Peli, Paranormal Activity has a plot as basic as my cable. Katie (Katie Featherston) and her semi-long-term boy toy, Micah (Micah Sloat) have been experiencing...ahem, some Paranormal Activity (I suck) when they decide that they want to try to capture these ghostly-goings-ons on video tape. Of course, they do capture something and this something they capture might not be the friendliest of ghosts, and things escalate for Micah and Katie as they try to deal with this unwanted visitor.

Easy enough, right? Sure, but here's the thing, the ghost, or spirit, or whatever, has been following Katie around since she was a little girl, creating havoc for her throughout her entire life. With Katie dealing with such torture for so long, she has grown very fearful of this invisible antagonist, almost to the point where she knows not to instigate it anymore than need be. Micah, on the other hand, is fascinated by this unseen menace and not having the same history as Katie has had with this haunting, he has no real fear of it, nor any sense of respect for what it is capable of...whether or not Katie warns him before hand.

This is really where some of the strength in Paranormal Activity lies, the characters are extremely well written and very realistic in many ways that some would not like to admit. You are seeing very broad typical characterizations of the average man and women, and how they interact with one another, especially when faced with trauma.

Katie is a little whiny, needy, and open to any sort of suggestion, that isn't coming from the man she loves, Micah. She will only rely on him for protection when she chooses - shuts him down when she doesn't need it and she is easily irritated by anything he does, almost to the point that it is unfair to Micah. Katie has every reason to be scared by what is going on in a way since she has been plagued by this menace for so long, but it is unfair for her to think Micah can fully understand what is going on, when this is his first exposure to such events. The fact that she didn't share her past haunting experience with Micah until she has already moved in with him and it started happening to them both shows her selfishness also.

Micah is not afraid of the haunting's so much as he is fascinated by them. It is his idea to set up the cameras and even when Katie constantly warns they are making things worse, he still continues to use them. Micah is all for communicating with the ghost via a Ouija board no matter what the warning are, and much like a child, he almost sees it as fun at first and it shows his immaturity. When things do escalate, he feels it is up to him to take care of the situation, he feels he must protect his girlfriend and his home without any help from anyone else. Like most men, including myself, Micah is slightly egotistical and his ego clouds what would be better judgment for the fear of not being in control. He constantly promises Katie that he will figure this out for her and he really does try to, because he cares about her, but he also doesn't want to not be in control of the situation as much as he wants to protect her.

Now, do I think the film is scary? Paranormal Activity has been heralded as the scariest movie of all time, or of this decade and so on, whatever. How any movie can live up to that expectation is unfair to say the least. Especially when "average asshole Joe" has no clue about the movie outside of it being referred to as the "scariest movie of all time," then seeing Paranormal Activity and ultimately being disappointed by the lack of visual apparitions. This is the same shit that happened with Blair Witch...many disliked it saying that it wasn't scary because they didn't see anything, because nowadays, people are so used to seeing everything, that when challenged to use their imagination, they are not capable of doing so.

What you are seeing in this film is what I would guess you would see (or not see) in real life and that is what either frightens people, or completely turns them off. For me, I find the simplicity of a door shutting by itself, or a chandelier rocking back and forth from an unknown force to be scary, as opposed to being shown an actual ghost or having a creature be shown. Being shown something can be scary too, if done well of course, but it is easier to distance myself from the events in a movie like The Orphanage, for example, than it is a film set in a normal everyday house with a faceless assailant. This almost goes back to what worked in the first half of Jaws; it was more frightening to see the results and actions of the shark, without actually seeing the shark itself. You know what's there creating the chaos without seeing it, and it's what it is capable of that is the most effective aspect.

Some can say you do not see anything in Paranormal Activity, yet when you do in the form of a possessed Katie; it is the worst part of the film and seems like an unnecessary sight used just to put a face to the menace. Putting a face to the menace to appease moviegoers who want to see "something." That is really my only complaint about the film and I much prefer the alternative endings that I have seen/read about, but it is what it is. I found Paranormal Activity to be quite scary and it is a scary that has lasted with me for a few is easy to relate to the events because they are plausible and they can happen to you in your natural setting. I will forever be creeped out by the often-used static camera shot from inside Katie and Micah's bedroom, waiting to see what was going to happen next in what area of the hallway...or seeing nothing, and only hearing loud bangs or footsteps, not knowing what was to come from those noises.

As I have expressed in a recent post, I am extremely happy that Paranormal Activity has done so well and this is the second film in ten years to come from nothing and sweep the nation. This film is the opposite of Hollywood and for it to do well almost balances things out in the big picture. It takes thing back a little and shows that you can do so much with so little, and I don't completely mean money wise either so much as I mean what can be done to scare people with simple film making techniques. Whether or not it scared you is one thing, but it has put a little poopie in a whole lotta moviegoers pants to make it one of the most successful films of the it has done something right. Word is born.


  1. Its about goddamn time you wrote about this! Been dying to know what you thought of it. I was in my boxers drinking beer until 3 in the morning after I saw it. It freaked me out. That last scene was money.

  2. I enjoyed the film, had a few squeals here and there. However Katie wasn't traumatised enough for someoone who has been experiencing this phenomena for such a long period and yes she was whiny. Some good scares and the ending I didn't expect, but scariest movie of the year... Not sure.

  3. [...nowadays, people are so used to seeing everything, that when challenged to use their imagination, they are not capable of doing so.]

    Amen. That has been my claim for years. Glad I'm not the only one to think so.

  4. You gotta appreciate the effort put into this $15k flick. Scary is relative but the realness is there. I like the fact Micah was suck an a**hole and started alpha maleing and calling out the demon.

    1. của hắn đảo qua nhưng không thấy ngọn núi hình Hổ nào.

      Hắn trầm ngâm một chút, tuy rằng tiến hành tìm kiếm rất khó khăn nhưng hắn cũng không từ bỏ, vẫn cẩn thận tìm kiếm ở trong mảnh nhỏ này. Hắn cũng nhìn thấy hai tên tu sĩ đang không ngừng đánh giá lẫn nhau, không động thủ mà đi lướt qua nhau.

      Nhiều ngày sau, Vương Lâm vẫn không có chút thu hoạch nào, lại bay lên không. Sau đó hắn lại hạ xuống lốc xoáy lần nữa. Mấy người ngồi trên bình thai nhìn Vương Lâm cứ xuất nhập không ngừng, đều đoán già đoán non nhưng không một ai dám liều lĩnh tiến lên hỏi.
      mu private cho thuê nhà trọ nhạc sàn cực mạnh tư vấn pháp luật qua điện thoại công ty luật tổng đài tư vấn pháp luật dịch vụ thành lập công ty
      Một ngày nọ, Vương Lâm lại từ lốc xoáy hạ xuống. Nơi hắn tới không phải là phía Tây mà là bên cạnh phía Đông. Sau khi rơi xuống đất, hắn thầm than một tiếng. Nếu là cứ như thế này thì không biết đến ngày tháng nào mới có thể tìm kiếm hết một lượt toàn bộ các mảnh nhỏ phía Tây.

      Hôm nay, động phủ của Thiên Bảo thượng nhân thật sự thật khó mà tìm ra được.

      Lúc hắn đang muốn rời đi, bỗng nhiên phía trước truyền đến hai đạo pháp lực dao động.

  5. I watched a DVD of this recently, with one of the alternative endings (not seen in the theater).

    I thought it was terrific. The only way I can describe it, is that it got under my skin.

  6. Great review, Matt. I really like Paranormal Activity for lots of the reasons you mentioned. I went with my wife and it gave me a different perspective on the movie. I love me some paranormal stuff. I am an unabashed fan of Most Haunted (seriously I watched their 8 night Halloween event in 10 minute chunks on YouTube I have a serious problem lol) and while I wouldnt call myself a believer, but I would say I'm a inquisitive skeptic when it comes to ghosts and the like. My wife on the other hand is a die hard non believer. The movie really worked for me and I was tense as a mofo. You can put me in front of any kind of gore (which the wife can barely deal with) and I'm fine. Start having spooky crap happen and I get scared. Im the end I liked the film, and she liked seeing me get scared by a movie for once.

    I'm also one of the folks who did not care for Blair Witch and yeah, I admit it was because you didn't see anything. I thought there were enough things that you did see in Paranormal that kept me from feeling the same way. I have tons of other thoughts on this film (I posted on a film right after I saw it if anyone wants to check it out._ but I've gone on far too long already.

  7. This is a super well thought out and articulate post.
    You are a great guy.

    That is all.

  8. Whew! Glad to see you dug PA - I have to say I would've been a little bummed if you hated it. I'm not surprised there's a backlash out there in the horror community - when a movie is trumpeted as the scariest ever, it's natural for hardcore fans to bristle. But all hype aside, I thought it was an effectively creepy piece of work. I'm hoping to see it a second time before it's out of the theaters.

  9. Wow! Look at all of these comments! You guys are all oh so lovely and terrific! Thanks!

    POT: Sorry! I wrote this thing like a week ago, but Halloween had me baked up worse than I'm almost caught up! The movie sat with me for a while after watching it too, which is a great sign of effectiveness on the film's part.

    I can picture a bombed POT in boxers saying "I ain't afraid of no ghost!" "Belch!" An amazing image!

    Ms Harker: You would think if she was so afraid of this spirit that she would just go ahead and call the demonologist no matter what Micah said.

    I'm not sure if it's the scariest movie of the year or not either, I think it may be...It's certainly not the best horror movie of the year, but good horror doesn't necessarily need to be scary to be good, depending on the film.

    Rev: Thanks, Phantom! For the sake of not ruining a review not yet posted, I will be posting a review for another film (sometime next week perhaps) that is totally reliant on using your imagination - It just so happens that the movie is phenomenal too and another example of letting your noggin fill in the blanks. I love to see shit too, but there needs to be balance.

    Frank Dux: That's what I was trying to get at in my review...Micah was being such a guy and getting all territorial. It may seem ridiculous that he would challenge an entity to a brawl, but I would throw down with a ghost if it was messing with my shit! I'll fuck that ghost ass up! *just kidding, ghost guy demon thing*

    Pax: I would guess that the ending you saw was the police ending, which I saw on the interwebs and really liked. I really would like to see the alt ending of Katie cutting her throat in front of the camera...the thought alone is super haunting.

    As I said to POT up top, the movie kept me on my toes a bit and even when I wrote this review and searched for the alternative endings from the film, I was getting all creeped out sitting alone at my computer!

    Bugg: I knew you weren't a big fan of Blair Witch, so I was curious as to what your thoughts were about Paranormal Activity. I went back and read the review you posted and I do remember reading it before, but that was so long ago now, I had already forgotten! That may be where I read that you weren't a big fan of Blair Witch actually. I loved BWP more than PA, but I do totally agree that you are shown much more "activity" in Paranormal Activity.

    As with you, I love and (mostly) believe in ghosts and find all of that shit fascinating while at the same time, utterly frightening! Also, Mrs. Bugg believes the moon landing was a hoax, but doesn't believe in ghosts?! I guess that is a good thing...kinda evens things out!

    The Lightning Bug's Lair: A Brief Word About Paranormal Activity

    Christine: You're the best...and get 37 thank yous for such a kind comment! Now, I know you really didn't dig the movie too much, but I am curious if your thoughts changed after some time had passed? Did you get any sort of left over fear when alone in your place?

  10. Jeff: Just missed out on the longest comment response, ever!

    PA is now playing at the theater nearest to me, which is 10-15 minutes away, as opposed to the hour that we traveled to see it last week. So I may see it again (but I still really wanna see Where the Wilds Things Are!).

    I'm not surprised by the backlash either and it is not a film for everyone, but horror fans should know what they are getting into and know better than to believe the hype. I can't blame anyone for disliking it if they don't think it's scary, scary is a subjective thing as is film in general.

  11. Matt-
    To be honest with you, I dislike it more as time passes.
    I am a HUGE fan of Blair Witch. I also love the less is more approach. I believe wholeheartedly that your imagination can fill in horrifying gaps better than any FX. Some of my most scaring film experiences have been of the "haunted house" variety.
    That being said, this film did nothing for me and I point the finger squarely at the continuous inability to successfully build tension.

    Doesn't change how I feel about your review. Taking your passion and deep understanding of what this film was trying to accomplish in it account, I wish you had made this movie. It would have been 100 times more effective.

  12. A 38th thank you!

    I mainly asked because I know Lady-Suzaka thought the movie was "okay" when we saw it, but it was the next morning when she got creeped out getting ready for work, in the dark, where the film came back to haunt her. Therefor, she liked the movie much more for it having a lasting effect on her.

    It's hard to tell, but I think you are right about the lack of tension...the film has little tension going on outside of the bedroom scenes. There is no overall tension throughout.

    Tension and straight "scary" can work quite differently from one another and don't add up to the same thing at all when you think about it. Tension almost sucks you in, gets you focused and curious as to what is happening, as opposed to the payoff of the actual scare itself. The tension breaks because of the scare. I may be speaking gibberish now though!

    I also agree, if I made the movie, it would have been perfect and the greatest thing ever. But, Katie so would have shown her boobs!

    Thanks, Christine!

  13. Dang Matt,

    I was apprehensive about seeing this film but my cousin really wants to see it. Surely it's still playing this weekend.

    I am with you in the umbrella theme of fear of the unknown. Ghost stories have always been a site of crippling fear for me because of their plausibility and the fact that we cannot see or touch what we know is there with us: benevolent or malevolent.

    The emotions of the characters and the backstory of the almighty otherside is what draws you in and frankly makes it more scarier. Poopy pants indeed. No, that was not a confession! I suffer from insomnia.

    I'll try to make the time to see this one Friday.

  14. I think having some small belief, or at least being open to the possibility of the unknown can really help make a movie like this scarier.

    The movie isn't too long, so if you do have a fear induced poopie, you won't have to suffer for too long! Let me know what you think of it if you do go and see it this Friday, I would love to hear your thoughts!

  15. I really enjoyed "Paranormal Activity", and although I wasn't one of the people who screamed out loud in the theater, there was a definite underlying feeling of unease that lasted far beyond any of the immediate shocks that are mostly seen in horror films these days. I only wish that the theater I saw it in wasn't filled to the brim with a cavalcade of chattering teenage jackasses who would not turn off their cellphones or stop dry-humping the cheerleader next to them long enough for me to really get into the film. That's okay though, because despite the claims that this is a movie that has to be seen in the theater, I have a feeling that it will actually be even creepier when seen in the darkened rooms of your own home. After all, it wasn't a movie about a haunted theater...

    Thanks for the great review!

  16. Thanks, Jonny!

    I agree that the movie will work just as well at home, especially because it is set in a house. I could see it not being as effective if you have some weak little TV, but on a proper TV of 42', it should play quite well.

    The topic of annoying people in the cinema has been coming up in a ton of different places lately. The high ticket prices and the fact that there are so many assholes in theaters will only hurt the overall box office. Soon enough, many people will just stop going all together...we need an uprising!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  17. I was very happy with the film once we got in to see it. Even though many of the subtler events may not have been scary necessarily, I absolutely love that the film didnt portray over the top hauntings to sensationalize the plot, and managed to create convincing scares that could conceivably happen to anyone. On that note, the ending is a complete reversal of everything the film did right, and it really pissed me off.

    Be sure to visit the website to get your name on the DVD credits too Matt!

  18. I couldn't (and didn't!) say it better myself! The ending really takes you right out of the film, unfortunately. I can let it pass since it is only a quick moment in the last second of the film, but I wish it wasn't there at all.

    And I did put my name in for the DVD credits, it will be: Mike Ockizlong!

  19. The way you explained what creeped you out in the movie is exactly what my wife said to me. She is more afraid of something she can't see then a slasher movie like Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street.

    Great review man..I am a fan of both PA/PA2 and BWP so I found this review interesting and entertaining!

  20. Great, I'm happy that you dug the review, Mothman, and thanks for stopping by!


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