27 November 2009

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity


Paranormal Activity
2009, 86mins, R
Director: Oren Peli
Writer: Oren Peli
Cast includes: Micah Stoat, Katie Featherston
Release Date: 16th October 2009

“Paranormal Activity” has snared a fair degree of buzz in recent months, having sat on studio shelves for nearly two years Paramount whipped the picture into theatres and have somehow come out as winners. The film which cost well under $1 million has gone onto gross over $100 million and turned director Oren Peli into the next big thing. Shot in a “Blair Witch Project” style of handheld chaos the movie is an effective creeper of a motion picture, not outright terrifying but certainly unsettling. Peli avoids the horror genres excesses and guns for subtler thrills and spills and the results are rewarding and promising in equal measure. It’s not perfect neither is it the scariest film of all time but “Paranormal Activity” is an undeniably effective slice of low budget filmmaking.

Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston) are a young couple with a disturbing problem. They believe that Katie is enduring haunting and has done since a young age, a particularly aggressive and potentially dangerous demon supposedly the antagonist. After consulting those knowledgeable in the paranormal the couple invests in a camera to keep track of the menace’s movement during the night, the recording device placed a few feet from their bed. As the nights go on the presence grows ever more unpredictable and active, resulting in the couple’s degeneration of courage and mental stability.

“Paranormal Activity” is the very definition of lean and mean, lasting a paltry 86 minutes with the vast majority spent trying to spook viewers. Certainly for those seeking a quick rush of Goosebumps the film fulfills their needs, it’s never a truly frightening picture but it retains an uneasy eeriness from the first reel. Peli seems to have been birthed from the less is more school of filmmaking and such a creed is put to neat use here, the limited budget would probably have resulted in a scrappy looking demon so the director uses other disturbing mechanisms to keep viewers on their toes.

The handheld aesthetic obviously adds a sense of realism and energy to proceedings but by the same token pretty much ensures cinematography is flushed out the window. The night based shots are still and beautifully lit but any other moments are flustered and raw, the day time sequences particularly harsh from a visual viewpoint. Those who also find handheld camera movies make them feel noxious are going to suffer pretty badly during “Paranormal Activity” the camera is kinetic and does a credible degree of shaking. However much is redeemed during the actual ghostly interludes, the camera lies still and a quietness envelops proceedings beautifully, Peli slowly making each encounter more extreme than the last. By the end of the movie “Paranormal Activity” is palpable, the scripting and storytelling stemming from a slow burning form of terror baiting. Those AD induced viewers who need blood and guts thrown at the screen from the first scene will be a little miffed but by the finish “Paranormal Activity” induces fear far above the level torture porn could ever hope to.

The performances from Featherston and Stoat are just okay but Peli has the skill and understanding to work around them. The improvised dialogue is impressive even if some of the acting isn’t and by the climax, somehow, the audience has come to sympathize and feel for the young lovers. There are a few (mostly bathroom) based moments that feel unnecessary and corny but the general mounting of the characters is believable, building them up and fleshing them out at a satisfying rate. Sure at times the newcomers seem a little out of their depth but the earnestness that kills a few of the quieter dramatic moments actually powers up the more chilling ones. Despite shortcomings in a few areas the duo does give it their all during the bedroom based fright scenes and this actually helps rather than damages these sections.

The ending is wonderfully ferocious and haunting whilst some of the imagery created on route sources shivers out of nowhere. Peli does deserve kudos for such an accomplished job and surely will carry on making interesting and solidly engaging horror movies. Much like “The Blair Witch Project” did in 1999, it is almost a certainty that “Paranormal Activity” will slowly amass an army of haters and the claims of it being the greatest fright fest of all times will abate. I agree that the film is a cut below the very best horror movies but judged purely within its own year the movie surely deserves to be considered amongst the finest examples of its genre. An intriguing and commendably spine tingling experience, “Paranormal Activity” warrants a solid recommendation.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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