So I just got back from seeing Paranormal Activity. Wow. With Drag Me To Hell and Paranormal Activity it has been a really good year for horror movies. I would say that if you were forced to choose between the two, Drag Me To Hell is the overall better movie, with the caveat that at home it would lose a lot of its power. Paranormal Activity is the kind of movie I think would be a lot more effective in a home theater. Anyway, let us move onward for some impressions!
The first thing you’ll notice about Paranormal Activity is it is done in the same style as the Blair Witch project, and more recently, Cloverfield. Rest assured that this is not as horrible as Blair Witch, and is not a movie about a giant monster terrorizing people. You’re introduced to the characters Micha, the boyfriend, and Katie, the girlfriend. There’s also Katie’s friend and some guy who is a paranormal expert. Four characters, two of which you hardly see.
Well, I guess technically five.
See, their house is haunted by ‘something’ and neither of them know what. So Micha gets the bright idea to buy a really good camera and then film themselves sleeping to see if they can catch anything on film. So our entire narrative is seen from the point of view of the camera (hence the Blair Witch/Cloverfield comparisons) and in typical horror fashion the hauntings get worse as time goes on. One of the remarkable things about this movie when compared to horror in general, but also Blair Witch in particular, is that the horror that this couple goes through feels real. No one looks at the camera and says “I’m so scared!” or anything like that. You can just look at them, at their relationship, how they walk, and talk, that these people are scared out of their minds. And that sucks you right into the movie, if you believe that these people are scared*you* get scared.
Also, the night scenes are really brilliant in my opinion because when the couple are sleeping your eyes naturally want to focus on them: that’s where people are so that’s where the action should be. But it isn’t. But sometimes it is. So you have the couple sleeping in their bed, and then the wide open door which looks out onto the hallway in which you can just barely see enough to not be sure of what you’re seeing. It creates this incredible tension of not knowing where anything is going to come from. It’s really well done.
Speaking of technical details, the sound is fucking absurd. In a good way. There’s no music, obviously, so from the get go your ears are straining for some sort of noise to fill in the void, the brilliance of this tactic is that there are such subtle sounds that you’re sometimes not sure if you’re hearing the ‘haunting’ or if your brain is just filling in the silence. You know that something is going to happen, but you’re given no auditory or visual clues until it is way too damn late- which is downright brutal on you. And, unlike most horror movies, the brutality is done really well (and I don’t mean like blood and guts, I mean tension) because the ‘action’ is broken up by scenes where they aren’t in their bedroom, which serves two purposes: to bring the audience back to some safe ground, and increase the dread of the next evening.
The characters themselves, Micha and Katie (the two support people I won’t mention, they’re there but just as exposition really) are incredibly good at this. They give believable roles, although Micha was a bit too much the stereotypical alpha male for me, and Katie played the scared female role excellently as well. I know it seems like they wouldn’t be interesting because of their predefined roles, but I assure you they break these roles exceedingly well and… well you’ll have to see. It’s too good to ruin.
The best part of the film is, of course, the ending. And while I do mean the actual final scene of the movie is intense (seriously, I was biting my hoodie) it is also what happens after that which is really well done. I can’t spoil it for you, but it really gets under your skin. Ending aside three scenes in particular really freaked me right the fuck out, and I think did the same for the rest of the audience. I can’t ruin these scenes for you, but for such a low budget movie they do some really amazing things to freak you out. It felt like I was watching a really great version of Silent Hill (simply because of the tension.) The tension in this movie is unreal. It just… by the end you can’t even begin to predict what will happen.
I loved it.
I hope you do too.