Directed by Oren Peli
Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Icon Home Entertainment
UK Release date: March 22, 2010
Recently Micah and Katie have been aware of strange activity at night in their San Diego home. They have been woken by odd noises, whispers, and the sound of footsteps. Katie has witnessed paranormal activity periodically since she was a child and now it has caught up with her once more. Micah invests in a video camera and over the course of twenty-one nights in the summer of 2006, films the supernatural occurrences in his house.
Initially he puts it down to everyday things like a creaky house or the ice-maker. The first physical evidence he catches on camera — the bedroom door slowly swinging shut, then slowly opening again — he just thinks is cool to watch back on his laptop. But he records more and more evidence as the nights get worse and he begins to realise how serious their problem is. This movie is what was found on his tapes.
Like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and most of The Last Broadcast, Paranormal Activity is shot as if it were a home movie filmed on a video camera. Where Cloverfield pushed the horror-cam (I’m using it) genre by incorporating big special effects and lots more action, here director Oren Peli goes the route of initial trailblazer, BWP. It is very low-key and intimate, not so much running around making the audience feel dizzy. However, I found this to get the upper hand over BWP because this was shot entirely at someone’s home. Not in the woods where lots of bad things and creepy noises usually happen but in this couple’s home, their safe place.
The scenes at night are filmed in a static wide shot in the bedroom that shows the whole bed and because they leave the bedroom door open the dark hallway and top of the stairs is in shot. The night shots leave us waiting for something to happen. There are moments that will make you jump but the scariest thing about it is the constant sense of dread, the feeling that it is continuously building to something bad. It’s not a spoiler to say that things do happen but they are done in such a simple way and the sound mix adds just the right amount of terror that when scary happenings occur you don’t know whether to scream or laugh – anything to relieve the tension. Sometimes thanks to the power of the human imagination what you don’t see is the scariest thing imaginable.
Paranormal Activity is actually just two people in a house with a camera and little effects work is needed. The effects which are used are so subtle and efficient it really shows that you don’t need huge amounts of blood, huge monsters or big, sharp weapons to scare people — you just need to show them that the place they thought was safest could be the scariest.
Obviously the roles of Micah and Katie were key to the whole project and director Oren Peli had to get the casting right. If the audience didn’t like this couple then the whole movie would be wasted. But they are instantly likable thanks to great performances by newcomers Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston. Sloat’s character is kind of cool about the whole thing, he doesn’t really take it too seriously and he is behind the camera most of the time. It is Featherston’s performance which really stands out. She feeds the terror back to the audience. She is the one who has been told the demon is after her (can you imagine?!) and to whom most things happen.
Where Paranormal Activity finds itself lacking is during the scenes filmed in the day. Micah is fascinated by the sights and sounds he captured on film the night before and pours over his recordings, excitedly pointing out shadows and strange noises to Katie. Katie is, quite understandably, not so excited by the news that a demon is following her, she wants to block it out. But neither seem particularly scared. Katie screams and runs out of the bathroom when she finds a tiny spider but will slump back into bed at night after being woken up by something creepy. I know that if I was in that situation there is no way I could go back to bed, no sir. Lights on, coffee drunk, baseball bat in hand, back against the wall. Ok, so a baseball bat will in no way help in a fight against a spirit, but I’d take my chances.