film reel image

film reel image

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Paranormal Activity 2007 * * * Stars

Paranormal ActivityDirector: Oren Peli
Year: 2007
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Riding the coattails of such hand held/shaky camera films like Open Water, The Blair Witch Project, and to an effect, Gerry (the last picture mentioned had well known actors in it but the themes are self sufficient), Paranormal Activity is a welcoming success. It's a small scale exercise that generates overbearing tension and surmountable fear. With a small budget, a no-name cast, and no musical score (certain classics like Halloween needed the music so there you go), the tone of this film at times, will shake you. When I initially saw it in 2009, I thought it was moderately effective (in my mind, I have very high expectations for movies of this genre). It didn't scare or haunt me as much as I thought it would. However, I applaud Paranormal Activity for its ability to avoid the gore factor along with getting solid improvisational work from two struggling actors off the street (I think the film was helped by not having a script. It made things seem so much more real). Now granted, the sequels/prequels that came after "Activity" wore out the novelty (except for Paranormal Activity 2 which is just as scary if not scarier than the first one) with each rushed installment. But what seemed like a good idea at the time (why not make a movie for $11,000 and see what happens) ended up turning into a national phenomenon. I even applaud director Oren Peli after I found out that he shot the whole thing in his own home (If I lived there, I couldn't sleep in that bed post filming). Let me put it this way, this vehicle represents a Hollywood Cinderella story if there ever was one. Is it the most terrifying scare fest ever? Not quite. Does it possess a certain level of innovation and ominous glare? You betcha.

With an ending that from what I understand, was guided by the hand of financier Steven Spielberg (yes that Steven Spielberg) and containing various sequences that were manned camera-wise by one of its stars, "Activity" examines a normal San Diego couple (actors Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat who use their actual names as their character's names) who's house becomes moderately haunted by a demonic spirit. In order to find out the origin of said spirit, Micah decides to film and document the strange happenings thereby provoking/inviting the evil into their lives (not intentionally mind you). This goes on and on throughout the film's short running time to the point where possible possession may be inevitable (the demon is out to get Katie and has been following her since childhood). Micah even buys a Ouija board as a form of extreme measurement (to the dismay of his aggravated girlfriend). By then, you start to feel the walls closing in from an audience standpoint. The unnecessary actions by Micah's character become a plot device implanted so the flick can ultimately carry on. I will say this though, he does add a bit of comic relief here and there. What can I say, it works despite all the dreariness surrounding the situation.

Now as I mentioned earlier, the improvisational masking by the two main players is pretty good. But the most natural and possibly most catatonic performance comes from a psychic named Dr. Fredrichs (played by Mark Fredrichs, a virtual unknown). He warns the two house dwellers that they cannot run from this entity and it will haunt them no matter what. With an obvious sense of sored calamity, he nails his part perfectly where as Featherston and Sloat strain ever so slightly from time to time.

When I put together my plethora of all time greatest horror films, Paranormal Activity is not solely on the list. I'm not biased to scary movies that have a higher budget because they get the job done as well (in case you're wondering, The Exorcist is my all time favorite). But "Activity" is a clear benchmark of what a horror film can do with almost virtually no studio-planted resources. It's a solid entry into the world in which people want to be frightened. And it also made a ton of money (there can never be anything wrong with that). If you've seen one of the ghosts shows on "The Travel Channel" or "A & E," just think of a more heightened, more eerie, and more horrific experience all together. Paranormal Activity is innovative, surreal in its reality based factualism, and downright curdling in its "Hitchcockian" mindset. In terms of movie watching, it's an "activity" you might want to pursue.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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