'Paranormal Activity': The Camera Won't be the Only Thing Shaking
By LeAnna Shanks
"Paranormal Activity" is fake. It’s a fake documentary about a young couple, Katie and Micah, and an increasingly aggressive demon that haunts Katie. But even knowing that it’s a fake documentary does nothing for the shivers running down your spine and wanting to check twice behind that open door.
The movie proves to be quite entertaining and creepy -- a welcome alternative to the paint-by-numbers horror films in recent years. The movie relies on genuine suspense and small, often unseen, shocks rather than minute-to-minute scares. Using the homemade, shaky camera style reminiscent of "The Blair Witch Project," "Paranormal Activity" adds a Hitchcock-like build up of suspense; each attack is more disturbing and serious than the last. The movie lays suspense on thick and the tension is almost tangible after each nightly visit from the demon.
As his first major motion picture, Oren Peli focuses on style and substance rather than cheap gimmicks most Hollywood directors employ these days. Peli borrows his style from the major horror faux-documentary in recent memory: "The Blair Witch Project." Like "Blair Witch," the most horrific sights are the ones you can’t see. In "Paranormal," it’s slightly different, but still effective: we can easily see a door moving, but not who or what moves it. The audience projects whatever terrifying demon they choose onto the invisible figure, using whatever grotesque and deformed features their imagination might conjure up. Add this to a tremendous amount of tension and it’s lights out for Katie and Micah.
Part of what makes this and "The Blair Witch Project" so convincing is the use of unknown actors. On screen, Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) seem like a regular couple with a video camera, making the story all the more believable. As for the setting, using a suburban San Diego tract house forces our natural beliefs about haunted places to change. Hauntings can happen anywhere, not just in the typical old, creaky house.
The hype surrounding the movie is incredible: a major media frenzy coming from the tagline, “Don’t See It Alone,” and the poster itself saying it’s the scariest movie of all time. If you’re brave enough to stand an affront to your strongest sensibilities and easily excited imagination, check it out for yourself.