The Brag

Film Review: Paranormal Activity

In Arts, Brag 340 (November 30), Film Reviews on December 7, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Paranormal Activity.

Paranormal Activity
Opens December 3.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding this micro-budget horror film. Shot for a mere $15,000 it has already recreated the box-office success of The Blair Witch Project (to which it is clearly indebted). The trailer, which barely includes any scenes from the film, depicts terrified audiences huddling in fear. One critic called it the “scariest movie ever made”.

I must have been watching a different film. While offering some effective suspense sequences and an ending with a sort of payoff, most of Activity burns along with no sense of plot or characterisation.

The setup is thus: a couple, Kate (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), move into a San Diego home and are restless about the presence of malevolent spirits in their upstairs bedroom. Micah setups up a camera to monitor them in their sleep. It’s not long before strange noises are heard, lights switch themselves on and off and doors sway on their own accord. They are visited by a psychic who suggests it may be a demon. Perhaps they should consult a “demonologist”, he tells them. Conveniently out of town, Kate and Micah instead are left to deal with the deteriorating situation alone.

The hand-held camera is modestly effective, and uncredited writer/director Oren Peli cleverly uses sound and its absence to heighten the suspense. The lack of production values is consistent with the idea that the footage is real and found after the fact by the San Diego police, but the film’s sparseness is also its weakness. There’s nothing here that engages on any level above the most primal. While that may be true of many horror films, at least they do so with some sense of narrative and style.

Paranormal Activity may be refreshingly devoid of gore, but it’s so simplistic it’s also devoid of most anything else.

Joshua Blackman


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