After young middle class couple, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) move into their newly acquired suburban house, they become aware that they are being haunted by what may be a malevolent entity, which is most active at night. They set up video surveillance to capture evidence of what happens while they (try to) sleep...
Review by Louise Keller:
The promise is to scare you out of your wits. Does it work? For me: no. To tell you the truth, I was bored, frustrated and nauseous from the terminally jerky hand-held camera. The up and downside of this low budget thriller is one and the same. The characters profess to be the filmmakers recording a faux-documentary, which we are asked to believe is real. It's the 2009 version of The Blair Witch Project and from all accounts, this tiny-budget debut film from Israeli-born filmmaker Oren Peli, made two years ago, with the benefit of a potent viral marketing campaign and word of mouth that spreads faster than the latest flu epidemic, is receiving an extraordinary response. Peli must be grinning from ear to ear.
Most of the film concentrates on setting the scene and giving a sense of anticipation of what is to come. Ghosts or demons? What could be haunting Katie and has been doing so since she was 8 years old? In the opening scenes we meet Katie and Mica, who are happily' engaged to be engaged' and have known each other for 3 years. (It seems Katie hasn't got round to telling Mica about 'her problem' until now.) Katie Featherstone in particular does a good job, and together with Mica Sloat, make a convincing couple. When we meet them, Mica is setting up a home video in their two-level home so 'when any weird s**t goes on, we can react appropriately'. The camera captures them eating, talking, playing guitar, cleaning teeth, swimming in the pool and sleeping. The scenes are short, the dialogue is muddy and the images are occasionally out of focus. Sometimes only a foot is captured. Or the top of a head. It's that kind of film. The 'experience-it as it happens' kind.
We know that something weird is going on. Katie tells the visiting psychic about the flickering lights, the running faucets, the bangs, the scratching sounds, the illegible whisperings. You might need the demonologist, he says. Forgive me if I sound cynical, but it seems to me we are waiting the entire film for the pay off, which eventually arrives, but is all too slight. There's time lapse photography as the devil's hours of 1am, 2am, 3am, 4am come and go. We witness glimpses of strange occurrences between the banter, the quarrels the endless improvised dialogue. 'I don't know what the hell is going on, but this is useless', says Micah. My thoughts exactly. Over-hype can work to the detriment.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Paranormal Activity is the latest in the relatively short list of films in this genre kicked off by The Blair Witch Project, in which the characters recording their actions on camera, home video style, becomes the film. The ultimate auteur film, perhaps, or one of the 'self shooting' genre. A novelty the first time, it can still work if the style and the content are in perfect synch - as in The Blair Witch Project. Likewise in Spanish horror REC (remade as Quarantine in English and rather well, too), in which a small TV news crew is covering a story which turns horrific and the cameraman is our cameraman.
In Paranormal Activity, every effort is made to convince us that this is really the home video Katie and Micah shot ... edited perhaps (including some fade outs), but all their work. Pure. But it isn't pure, partly because we can sense the hurdles the device creates for the filmmakers. A young unmarried couple may well be desperate enough to place a camera on a tripod to record what goes bump in the night while they sleep. But the enforced recording of every other moment soon becomes a tiresome construct that turns the whole film into a wobbly home video with terrible sound. With a small but pesky continuity glitch.
Worse, there isn't a scare for the first 30 minutes, and the film only runs 86. But it's meant to be minimalist in a Hitchcockian sense. The other reason it isn't pure is the menacing grumble soundscape that is only heard by the audience, introduced to signal the coming presence of the demon the couple are afraid are stalking them. Once filmmakers introduce non-source sounds, the audience is never sure what it is that the characters hear. It's one of the most frequent cinematic sins committed in the horror genre.
Still, the idea is worthwhile and inventive - it just needs more work. As it is, it's a novelty film offering something different on the movie menu for a youth market looking for thrills. There is little concentration required, the characters are recognisably average and the story is simple.
That first scare I mention is a good one, I must admit, equalled perhaps by one other, coming late in the film, and while the final moments are a tad predictable, they play well to a cinema full of softened up young couples who live together is places they don't really know. Also impressive is Katie's performance as Katie, but we don't see much of Micah, who wields the camera. In this age of instant filmmaking for all, I wish he hadn't been directed to be so bad it at ...
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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (M)
CAST: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs
PRODUCER: Oren Peli, Jason Bloom
DIRECTOR: Oren Peli
SCRIPT: Oren Peli
EDITOR: Oren Peli
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Not credited
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 3, 2009