Paranormal Activity (***)

Posted on November 1st, 2009 in Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
paranormal-activity

Three's A Crowd

First, about the hype.  This is one creepy and disturbing movie.  It may not be the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s in the top ten.  The fact that it delivers such a wild ride but was made for less than $20,000 borders on amazing.

The plot is simple – Katie has been sporadically plagued with things going bump in the night her whole life.  She now lives with her boyfriend Micah, and recently she has started noticing strange happenings once again.  Micah, being the typical male, figures that the best way to respond is to buy some new electronics, and so as the film begins he as just come home with a brand-new, high-def video camera and sound recorder which he proudly explains (multiple times) he has connected via firewire to his laptop to document the events.  Then, if they are actually happening they will have proof, but if the tapes show nothing, it will serve to help Katie understand that nothing is actually happening.

That seems reasonable, except for the fact that Micah’s meddling and problem solving only serve to piss “it” off, and so matters begin to escalate.  They consult a ghost expert, who is helpful and friendly, sort of like Tim Gunn if he were on Project RunAway!  However, once the expert figures out that the malevolent entity is a demon instead of a ghost, he gets the hell out of there, leaving Micah and Katie phoning for help from what appears to be the only practicing demonologist in Southern California (ha!), who conveniently happens to be out of town until after the movie is over.

The entire film takes place on their property, from the opening shots of Micah filming Katie pulling into their driveway, to random handheld shots around the house, typical family films from the backyard pool, and most disturbingly, tapes of them sleeping, filmed with the camera completely stationary on a tripod in the corner of the bedroom, in night vision.  Yes, that’s where the fun begins.

The film does a great job of ratcheting up the tension, night after night after night.  We learn from the film that since this is a demon who is fixated on Katie, it wouldn’t help for them to leave, because the issue doesn’t have to do with the house, but with Katie, and the demon would simply follow them.  So, they surf the web and read books and try to figure out what to do.  How successful they turn out to be I will leave as an exercise for the viewer.

The actors who play Micah and Katie do a great job of seeming like a typical, young, upwardly-mobile couple.  Their house looks freshly decorated, and doesn’t have a “lived in” look.  He’s a day trader, she’s a student, he plays guitar, she does bead-work and knitting.  They seem perfectly natural on-screen, just the way all of us look and act when self-consciously filming ourselves with home video equipment. 

When they wake up, they look groggy and puffy.  When the camera pans the interior of the house, we see awkwardly exposed power cords and clutter, intermingled with furnishings from the upper-price ranges at IKEA.  They have a HUGE television and a pool, she drives a Miata, and they live in what appears to be higher-end-but-still-somewhat-cookie-cutter neighborhood.  It’s all pitch perfect.

The story behind the film is pretty interesting, too.  The director (Oren Peli, also the writer) filmed it in his own house and a very low budget.  He showed the film around festivals and shopped it around, and Paramount ended up buying the rights to the film, but apparently they did so only to get the rights to remake it.  Paramount started showing it to big-name directors trying to entice them into making a bigger-budget version, but Steven Spielberg told them they were crazy and they should just release the original film, albeit maybe with a different ending.

Also, reportedly, Spielberg took the screening DVD home with him to view, and after watching it started having his own paranormal problems, including doors closing and locking from the inside.  Things got to the point where he finally brought the DVD back to Paramount in a garbage bag, as he didn’t even want to touch it.  This could all have been cooked-up nonsense to add to the film’s mystique, but it would seem to me that Spielberg has more than enough money to waste his time playing make-believe in order to sell somebody else’s film.

After all that, I do have one big, BIG problem with the film, that almost caused me to shout at the screen, and which caused me to quietly whisper several times to Marie.  If you look at the picture included in this post, you will see that Katie sleeps on the side of the bed closest to the door.  And all through the movie, even when malevolent happenings are happening, even when they see ON TAPE with their own eyes that these happenings pass through their door, she continues to sleep on that side of the bed.  Although it certainly makes us feel more fear for Katie, it was ridiculous to think that any boyfriend/husband would allow his wife to continue to be the first one exposed to known danger by being closest to the door that way.  Hmph.

Other than that, this movie is pitch perfect.  I’ve seen a *lot* of scary movies in my day and am pretty jaded, but I can tell you that I’ll be very happy going to bed tonight knowing that we have three big, fierce dogs in the bedroom with us.

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