It's like Blair Witch but in civilization... well Suburbia...
Genre: Mystery Horror
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Directed By: Oren Peli
Overview: A man buys a camera to record proof of the strange and perhaps paranormal happenings in his house.
I remember the hype a couple of weeks before Paranormal Activity hit the theatres. I was even sucked into it a little bit, having been shown the 'real-seeming' trailer full of blue night-vision shots of the ill-fated couple and their invisible interloper, though when it was time to go see it in theatres, I pretty much missed the optimal viewing window. Then I heard how much of a pure turd it was. I tipped my cap to their marketing department for riding the coattails of The Blair Witch Project, for making a docu-style cheap film that grossed $100 million in the US alone, and all that on a $15,000 budget. Ultimately I realized that this was a small flash in a big skillet. I let the moment pass without chasing the title too hard.
Meanwhile, I study. I expect a lot from the 1001 films assigned to me by editor Steven Jay Sneider. Imagine my surprise when this got added to my epic list. When Paranormal Activity cropped up in a newer edition of the 1001 book, I chalked it up to corporate whoredom. I was downright doubting the value of the tome, and knew that it was that same old hype all over again. Yet, more than anything, I am a slave to the book, bowing to its will and complying to its demands. That and my mail rental service delivered it to me on Blu-Ray earlier this week.
A handycam production directed by a nobody and starring nobody actors, well that starts you in the hole. Sure you can throw around words like 'honest indie filmmaking' but it doesn't make it more poignant, entertaining or important. I went into Paranormal Activity expecting a bad time, and perhaps that nothing expectation had a lot to do with my impressed reaction of it. It's by no means a perfect film, but I admit that though it might not be an ideal choice for the big book of movies I have sworn to uphold, it was a film worthy of being known. Let me tell you a little about it.
The actors used their real names for their characters. How novel.
Katie, a student, and Micah, a day trader who works at home live together. Micah has just bought a camera with the intention of recording the weird things they've been experiencing. Whether to confirm if it's the pipes, the icemaker, ghosts or demons only time will tell. Both parties are pretty upbeat about it and not too concerned. Little things happen and they agree to bring in a "professional". Micah makes fun of the visiting psychic, a man who's made his career on ghosts. Katie explains to him that this sort of thing has been happening to her for years, and now whatever it is that's been following her all this time is now here in this house. The psychic explains that it sounds like a demon, something not human. He gives them a number of a demonologist. They decide to wait until the events get worse before they call someone else. And of course, thankfully for we, the audience, things get worse. How bad it gets is for you to enjoy.
Cinematographically, as expected, everything we see is through the lens of Micah's camera. There's no superfluous sound effects, it's all very barren and appropriately voyeuristic. Because of the way the camera is used, I found it rather reminiscent of Michael Hanekes' Caché (Hidden) in the best possible way. Those bedroom scenes with the still camera and the time lapse really draws one in to focus on everything captured by the camera's lens. It's downright suspenseful knowing we'll see something sudden or chilling, and all the while are unable to do anything but bury our concentration in the moment. It makes for a good creeping out. This is the highlight of the film. Aside from that, the acting is quite obviously amateurish, including a weak performance of the psychic who visits, played by neonate actor Mark Fredrichs. Other problems include a predictable Ouija board story arc cop-out. But all told the main actors really do seem to be more reacting than acting which is occasionally refreshing to see, and makes up for a lot of what the film lacks on occasion.
One nice touch on the Blu-Ray was how the menus and end credits were done. Even they were creepy: a simple black screen menu offers us the choice of PLAY MOVIE or PLAY MOVIE WITH ALTERNATE ENDING. Very basic. The end credits included a long alphabetical list of names, clearly out of a vast phonebook, and added an element of WTF to the worth end of this dirt-cheap production.
It's blue... still bluuuue and BOO!
Performance: 6 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 8
Overall Rating: 72% (Pretty Normal)
I popped this one into the Blu-Ray knowing that I wouldn't have to put any real effort into studying this one. The choice was this or Fellini's Amarcord, so yeah it was an easy pick for a lazy Monday evening. I must say in the end, I went to bed a little more uneasy than I expected. A rare thing indeed.