At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Paranormal Activity

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Micah Sloat, Katie Featherston, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, Ashley Palmer/ Runtime: 86 minutes

I feel it is safe to say that while I never had the ability to see The Blair Witch Project in theaters, I can picture in my mind that the anxiety and terror that audiences in 1999 felt honestly was nowhere near the dread and fear that was given to audiences over a decade later with the release of Paranormal Activity. Indeed this seemingly realistic look at a young couple and their ways of trying to prove that they are the unwilling recipients of being terrorized every night by a demonic entity in their home is honestly just as chilling and terror-inducing as you may have been told by people who went to see it in theaters. Indeed I can say that, for me at least, the process of writing this review has taken yours truly not only days, but also several pots of coffee, to figure out just what I want to put down on paper about this particular film. Yet even with all of my notes now formed into something resembling a quasi-sorta-legible review and not just the rantings of a crazed mad man, and having seen the movie over 2 weeks ago, I still find myself still waking up whenever I hear strange noises as I’m drifting off to sleep every night and thus finding myself staring out into the darkness hoping that there really is nothing out there, but my own overactive imagination. Thus if that doesn’t tell you something about this film then honestly I don’t know what truly will…

The plot is as follows: Paranormal Activity begins by introducing us to a young man by the name of Micah. Micah has recently bought a video camera with the goal of trying to back-up his girlfriend Katie’s claim that she has been experiencing a paranormal event since she was a little girl by trying to catch proof of it on film. As an extra caveat however, the camera will also be chronicling everything that occurs during the day, but just as importantly, while they are asleep at night. Alongside the camera, our intrepid young couple brings onboard a psychic who helps them verify that a demonic entity is present in the house (oh joy). However as days begin to change to weeks, a series of odd and seemingly harmless events begins transforming into horrifying situations with this purported demonic entity, and every night becoming more horrific and just manages to really cause Micah and Katie’s relationship to begin crumbling. Thus with both of our main characters at the edge of their sanity as well as absolutely terrified of their unknown enemy, it really does only seem like a matter of time before this entity that has come between them will eventually tear them apart, but by the time this film is over you will see that, in hindsight, this wasn’t the worst thing in the world….

Now clocking in at a few minutes shy of an hour and a half, it is safe to say that Paranormal Activity really does a wonderful job of being the film equivalent of an amusement park ride that you really want to go on, but then instantly regret getting on. Indeed made for an astonishingly tiny amount of money, this indie in every sense of the word horror film really manages to be a wonderful showcase for how a movie can do quite a bit with very little. Indeed this film provides audiences with an extraordinary amount of heart-racing chills and 2 wonderful main performances that we as an audience genuinely empathize with. Indeed we as an audience may not learn that much about either one of them, but the turns done by this duo of young thespians is able to have an audience really empathize with both their fear and their heartache as they attempt to piece together just why this entity is putting them through hell every single night. Indeed that is the very definition of genuine horror, and that is something that I hope more movies in the horror genre really learn to utilize more often.

Now the main reason that this cinematic experience is able to operate as efficiently as it does is right in the design of the film itself. Indeed this is a movie which manages to be set entirely in this young couple’s home and is also all filmed on a video camera. Indeed right from the word go, the director/writer/editor of the film is able to use everything to really help showcase not only our dynamic duo’s conversations with each other as well as various guests, of a human nature of course, while they are awake and then their various sleeping patterns at night. Thus anyone who chooses to watch this film finds themselves in the unwitting role of a voyeur for quite of a bit of this cinematic experience due to having to witness our intrepid duo sleep while waiting for anything spooky or creepy to occur and that often does without any prior warning. Indeed this really results in quite the unnerving film viewing experience due to the couple not always being awake during the spooky occurrences in their bedroom. Rather they usually only uncover what we have already seen happen the next day as they review the footage. However trust me when I say that the moments they are awake for the terror, it usually results in some quite horrifying and chilling moments that will make your skin crawl and your spine chilled to the core.

Ultimately however, these moments in the film are only as horrifying as they are because of how each and every one of you that makes up this film’s audience chooses to respond to them. Indeed I remember seeing this film in a packed house, and during the scenes set at night, you could have honestly heard a penny drop. Indeed every single person in that theater was filled to the brim with both tension and dread each and every time. Indeed even though the movie is only a mild case of creepy, and a little run-of-the-mill during the first 30 minutes before finally finding its footing, the audience still responded the very same way to the sequences set at night. Indeed I honestly don’t believe that when this was initially released, that there was another film, save for A Quiet Place, that really made an audience both silent and on the edge of their seat in the way that Paranormal Activity did. Indeed in order to really get the most out of this film then it really does need to be watched with a group of people and in as dark of a room as possible.

Now another praise-worthy aspect that this film manages to bring to the table would have to be the in regards to the special effects. Indeed even though many of the effects are more of the practical variety, and are easily accomplished, there are a few of the effects from later in the film that will absolutely terrify the daylights out of you while also making you ponder just how in the world they were able to pull them off with the money they had. Indeed they are so well-done that they manage to make an effects-bloated film like Transformers: The Last Knight look that much more like the train wreck that it truly is.

Yet ultimately the singular ingredient that really goes the longest way towards this film working on the level that it does would have to be the performance contributed by Katie Featherston. Indeed at the start of the movie, we are shown a sweet young woman who is extremely worried about what is going on with her, but as we race towards this film’s conclusion we witness that Katie has been worn down to the point of a complete psychological breakdown and we ultimately find ourselves extremely worried about her health and sanity. Indeed as our young couple proceeds off to sleep every night we as an audience really begin to feel an immense and foreboding unease that something calamitous is on the horizon and it’s not something we really look forward to. Indeed Miss Featherston’s talent of really building and developing for the audience a character that is both one we care about and also one we find ourselves investing in is truly fantastic and really helps to make this already potent film into something that is truly special.

Ultimately however, while I did enjoy the chilling journey that this film gives its audience, I also must say that I am disappointed by the aspect that this is a movie which is most certainly not suitable for repeat viewings. As such, this is most definitely a move that strongly hurts this movie overall at the end of the day. Indeed the frights and the impact this film leaves an audience with were not meant to be taken in by that audience in the same vein as say Candyman or The Evil Dead. Yes there might be a few new items for you to uncover, but ultimately this movie experience is down for the count the moment you get through it the first time. Indeed while there might be a few individuals out there who that is more than enough for them, there are also people, like myself, who enjoy repeat viewings and as such those people are going to be severely disappointed. Thus if I were to make the choice to watch this particular movie again at any point in the future, I honestly feel it would be so I can simply enjoy a fresh set of audience reactions since I can’t really put myself in the world of the film again.

All in all the success of this film would have to rely on the distinct aspect that this film may have been done on such a small budget, but it nevertheless was able to scare the majority of people who watch it. Indeed the fact that it functions as wonderfully on the levels that it does really helps make up for the few hiccups it has. Indeed here is a movie which has a runtime that helps ensure it doesn’t go for any longer than it needs to while its packed with enough frights to guarantee that even the most veteran horror movie watcher will be shook at least once. Above all though, if this movie represents anything, it should represent for a new group of up-and-coming filmmakers the physical embodiment of the concept that says that if you come up with a unique idea and you have the resources to make it happen then there really truly is no limits to the magic that you can conjure up. On a scale of 1-5 I give Paranormal Activity a solid 3.5 out of 5.