Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity is about a couple, Katie and Micah. Katie’s had experiences since she was 8 years old and the story basically begins with Micah showing Katie his new home video camera with which they’re going to try and capture, well, basically any paranormal activity they can. At night the camera is attached to a tripod filming them as they sleep.
Following a visit by a psychic who Katie invites to their home it’s established that the presence is likely a demon and dangerous. A great added tension builder.
The activity gradually builds throughout the film from a door moving by itself to footfalls and bangs. There’s one particularly eerie scene, for example, in which Katie gets out of bed, stands by the bed for a whole couple of hours (the little digital clock in the bottom right corner of the screen speeds up to show us this happening) and then goes outside where Micah finds her; I must admit that from this description this doesn’t sound very frightening but you’ve really got to see and be engrossed in the film to understand how truly odd this scene actually is.
I don’t want to give away too much of the film though in case there is actually anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it yet but I thought I’d try and give a flavour of the sort of creeping subtlety Peli uses to deliver his film and set us, the audience, on edge and scare us.
Now, I’ve read a lot of reviews by people who very vocally didn’t like the film which is fair enough, it really is a love or hate affair, whose main criticism seems to be simply that nothing happens which, in my opinion, really isn’t the case at all; lots of things happen but this film goes for events you’d be more likely to expect from a paranormal TV show such as Ghost Hunters maybe (if such shows ever actually captured anything, possibly unfair) than a horror movie.
The film does, sort of, rely on at least ‘a partial belief in’ or possibly ‘a subconscious fear of’ the reality of the paranormal, in my opinion, if it’s going to have any success in scaring the audience at all. Further, I would say that it was exactly this inadmissible (?) uncertainty with reality that The Exorcist tapped into back in the 70s.
So then, this is all on pretty controversial ground, right? Belief in the paranormal? Well… not really, many films after all require a suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience and this is simply no exception.
So, all we’re really left with as a criticism is whether or not such rampant subtlety is in fact a flaw or a stroke of genius on Peli’s part; I would go with the latter as I found the film truly terrifying, yes I found it hard to sleep after watching it for the first time, and that’s coming from a pretty much hardened horror fan. I will even admit that no film has scared me this much, if at all, since, yes, The Exorcist a long. long time ago.
Watch it. You’ll probably either love it or hate it. What can I say?