Paranormal activity

In this reviewer’s eyes, it has been a truly abysmal year for horror. Filled with stale remakes (Friday the 13th, The Stepfather), unwanted sequels (Saw VI, Halloween 2), gimmicky 3D trash (The Final Destination, My Bloody Valentine 3D) and terrible pastiches (Lesbian Vampire Killers, Jennifer’s Body), there has been a drought of decent horror, anything of quality unseen for over a decade. Even those that showed a spark of originality were either costly flops, ignored by mainstream audiences (Drag Me To Hell), or doomed to remain unseen in the bargain bin (Trick ‘r’ Treat). Yet seemingly out of nowhere Paranormal Activity has exploded on to the scene in a blaze of hype, following its inspired marketing campaign.

Made on the cheap for a measly $15,000 and shot in just 7 days, it revolves around a simple concept; what happens when we go to sleep. Katie (Katie Featherston) has been haunted periodically since the age of 8.

When these hauntings remerge, her boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat), decides to buy a camera and film the outcome. The film then follows them as they are tormented over the next 21 nights until the inevitable horrific conclusion.

The film is split between static tripod shots of the couple’s bedroom (the door ajar, the hall cloaked in darkness) and footage of the morning after as the couple respond to the events of the night before. It is the simplicity of this set up that makes the film such a compelling watch. Returning to the same static shot, it invites the audience to search the frame, looking for hints of movement. This is coupled with a clever use of sound, creating an eerie sense of foreboding, be it the clinking of keys dropped from a counter or the heavy steps of a mysterious entity. In addition to this, the progression of events gives the film a veneer of realism that most horrors can no longer offer, building to a final set of nights that are genuinely upsetting.

However, this is certainly not the scariest film ever, as has been touted on the side of many buses and there are numerous flaws to it. The film is a catalogue of ghost movie traits; from Ouija Boards to visits from Psychics, offering little new to a dated formula. Furthermore, while justified at the start, Micah’s decision to keep filming events becomes ridiculous and unsympathetic. Finally the ending is remarkably predictable, lacking the horrific shock of Rec, or the tragic sorrow of The Orphanage.

Although some critics have lambasted the film for these flaws, these are slight in comparison to the rest of the film. It is a remarkable achievement on the part of first time director, Oren Peli, putting together a fantastically simple horror film, one that almost lives up to the immense hype it has built up. Sure it is not above cheap shocks, offering little new features to the genre, but it has a remarkable power to linger, long after the credits have rolled.


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