Paranormal Activity

Dir: Oren Peli
Star: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

I'll admit to being pretty sceptical going in to this: Nothing but home-movies? How can that be scary? 90 minutes later, I was, if not quite whimpering behind the sofa, very satisfied with the outcome, as far as chills went. If what you have here is not really much more than "things that go bump in the night," that still taps into a basic human fear, of what is making that noise, out beyond the limits of the campfire. Katie (Featherston) and Micah (Sloat) start to experience odd occurrences in their house. To document things, Micah buys a camera and starts recording, not just their everyday lives, but also sets it up on a tripd in their bedroom, letting it run overnight. Things start with noises off, develop into more significant poltergeist activity, and after a photo of Katie - believed lost in a fire years ago - turns up, charred, in their attic, escalate rapidly towards the grandstand finale.

Like Blair Witch, its main strength is taking the weaknesses of micro-budget cinema and using them in a way where they become strengths - or, at least, cease to be problems. The two leads do have a very impressive chemistry, feeling like an actual couple, and that's an important factor in why this works, because it adds to the important sense of reality. Of course, as in all these entries, the cameraman keeps filming long after any real person - especially an amateur - would have lost all interest and legged it out of there. Sensibly, it's established early on that the demonic entity is apparently attached to Katie, and feeds on "negative energy," points which explain both the couple's unwillingness to leave and the increasing severity of attacks, as the couple feel the strain. But it's the ordinariness of the situation which is key: we've all woken in the middle of the night, thinking "What was that sound?" This film takes that concept and uses it as the foundation upon which to build the fear, by suggesting to viewers what might - just might - be lurking out there in the darkness.

[February 2011]

Now, why didn't we think of this?
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