Monday, October 19, 2009

REVIEW: Paranormal Activity

So is Paranormal Activity the scariest movie EVER????

Of course not. I would say it's the scariest movie this year, but that doesn't mean much when the horror genre isn't exactly creative these days.

What I will say, however, is that it got to me – not to the point where I'll start sleeping with one eye open, but this imaginative little movie  did make me ponder just why something scares me.

Paranormal Activity's obvious antecedent is The Blair Witch Project – both films are supposedly "found footage" made on the cheap that reveal something eerie and terrifying. And both movies were promoted by ingenious Internet campaigns.

Blair Witch suffered a backlash, partly because of its ambiguous ending, I think – not only does it not answer every question, it also doesn't feature gallons of spurting blood, which let down the gross-out crowd.  I've always said screw the backlash – Blair Witch worked for me, largely because I consider the woods in the dark a terrifying place, whether there's really a coven out there or not.  For someone who trips and falls easily, the woods are not fun when things are constantly wrapping around your feet.

The new movie is about a woman (Katie Featherstone) who's been hearing strange noises all her life and believes some kind of demon is out to get her. Her skeptical boyfriend (Micah Sloat) wants to capture the hauntings on camera – and what the camera sees is increasingly unnerving.

Although Paranormal Activity operates in much the same way as Blair Witch it didn't scare me as much. At first, I thought it was because I don't really believe in that kind of haunting. I've never seen convincing evidence of it, so it's not one of my personal fears.

Now, looking back at that paragraph I just wrote, I think to myself – "Wait a minute. The Exorcist is about demonic possession too, and that still gets my vote as the scariest movie of all time. How come that movie chills me to my core every time I see it, but Paranormal Activity didn't have the same effect?"

The answer, I realized, is because it's not the fear of demons that's the key – it’s my lack of fear of things that go bump in the night. Those sorts of bumps rarely bother me. I live in a 46-year-old house that makes all sorts of noises.  Although I have the occasional bout of insomnia, sleeplessness doesn't faze me much either.

Make no mistake, though – Paranormal Activity still chilled me, for the most important reason of all. I found the people interesting and was scared because they were scared. Their fear rubbed off on me.

I've heard people complain the film doesn't work because "nothing happens" – although for me, that very nothingness was what made it frightening. When the camcorder's time clock, in fast motion, reveals Katie standing at the edge of her bed, virtually motionless for an hour or so – that made my skin crawl.

The much ballyhooed ending, suggested by one Steven Spielberg,  is effective, but a bit too literal for my taste. I would have cut off the last shot earlier and left more to the imagination, but Paranormal Activity messed with my head enough that I'm still thinking about it days later. That's the mark of a horror movie that's actually scary.


1 comment:

Allison Dickson said...

I agree with your review to the letter, Eric. Also, I think that one of the film's foibles was the slight overuse of the "Idiot Plot Device," however the movie was highly effective and I liked it for the same reasons you did.


Frankly, I think the movie should have ended with her in bed, when "she" says "Everything's going to be all right now" and giving that ghastly smile. If it had ended there, I probably would have had far more of a traumatic episode. lol