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Lo-Fi Fright: Paranormal Activity Reviewed
Josh Saco , December 4th, 2009 11:13

Josh Saco explains why Paranormal Activity may be one of the best American horror films in nearly 10 years...

What makes a good horror film? Is it the the blood or the guts? The breasts or the beasts? The twisted imagination of such luminaries as Clive Barker or the conviction of such actors as Sam Neill to tackle mental demons? Is it the in your face or the subtle creeping dread? It it pretty sparkling vampires or shadows in the night?

It's what gets under your skin and what you are willing to allow in.

It seems that Paranormal Activity is destined to split the audience, much like it's sibling in celluloid The Blair Witch Project. Either you will hate it and feel cheated or it will scare the living shit out of you.

Director/writer Orin Peli seems to have studied that 10 year old romp in the woods and taken notes. He applied the lessons learned to his own supernatural dread fest and come up trumps.

Where Blair Witch... had irritating, snivelling snot fountains with no depth or development, the Israeli born first timer went to great lengths to find actors to suit his purposes. Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat seem to slip into their roles perfectly. The interaction between the two protagonists is smooth and flowing, the comfort of a long term relationship filled with childlike antagonism and that panicked concern you get when your loved one has been out too long. Micah, a daytrader, discovers that his new live in girlfriend, student Katie, has failed to mention that she comes accompanied by a demon. Excited as any guy with the funds to drop on top entertainment as evidenced by possibly the largest flat screen TV I have ever seen, Micah goes out and purchases a big-boy top-of-the-line camera to capture their night time visitor in action.

Katie is slightly less enthusiastic and with good reason. Something has been torturing her since she was child, and she'd rather not encourage it. But like any guy with his very own demon, who doesn't really believe, Micah dives in with all the carelessness of an 8-year-old tearing through his x-mas gifts. He lies and deceives, threatens and aggravates. Fearful, she begs and pleads. All the while, the shadow in the night builds and looms ever closer, breathing down her neck and disrupting otherwise normal suburban activity.

First timer Peli seems to have taken the incredibly under used yet obvious route of Pavlovian theory and applied it to his scare tactics, training the audiences ears and eyes to recognise when the scare will come. The skilful shifting of his formidable arsenal of fright even by seconds is often devastating enough to fill the room with an audible gasp. Effective is hardly the word - let it be said without a doubt, this is a man who can play your nerves with the slightest flutter and make grown men scream like foxes.

Removing the get out clause of the classic Amityville haunted house and inserting the demon within idea from the Exorcist we end up with a person, rather than a location, that is haunted, making escape impossible. This is not as simple as screaming "sort your fucking map reading skills out and piss off out of the woods you idiots" at the screen, this is "No! You CAN'T got to a hotel!!! It'll follow you!!!... oh damn... they are trapped..." And trapped they are as the demon gets angrier and when hope arrives, we are relieved, for a moment...

Like Colin, Paranormal Activity is another low budget independent, winning acclaim at festivals and causing quite a buzz - enough so that Paramount and Dreamworks caught wind and picked it up. The mighty movie machines helped to increase the online presence and increased the hype, claiming that this record breaking hit was a true story. They streamlined and re-edited the film, shifting the scare scenes to build dread more consistently; tweaked the sound track and toyed with the ending. Spielberg himself suggested the ending that we now see in the current cinema release.

Big companies playing around with indie films reeks of fucking things up, but having seen the original ending and considering the market of the film, this one is more appropriate and ultimately does the trick for the movie going masses.

But as I said, you have to allow this film and its trickery tricks to suck you in and unnerve you. This is the weakness that so many shrink from allowing and in turn allowing themselves to enjoy what may just be one of the best true creeping dread horror films to come out of the US since the early 90s.