Paranormal Activity

Why Not?

Somewhat random (and heavily-hyphenated) reviews by Saintchristopher

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Paranormal Activity

I've seen dozens of horror movies in my life. but Paranormal Activity is the first scary movie I've ever seen.

In the dubious tradition of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity presents itself as "found footage," going so far as to forgo credits and simply have a screen in which Paramount thanks the "families" of actors Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston (who used their real names in the movie) for "permission" to show the footage.

However, where its predecessors failed - Blair Witch for never effectively establishing a sense of urgency or suspense; Cloverfield for appearing far too polished despite its ostensibly "amateur" presentation - Paranormal Activity succeeds by leaps and bounds.

The plot is three sentences long: Girl has been troubled by odd paranormal events since childhood. Her boyfriend buys a camera because he thinks it'd be fun to catch evidence of said paranormal occurances. Shit then hits the fan.

The story's efficient simplicity is matched only by the minimalism employed by the cinematography. The film's only camera is almost always in the hands of Micah, unless the action dictates he must be in frame, and he has a remarkable inability to keep the action in frame. This creates an interesting juxtaposition with the ubiquity of the camera's placement in the corner of the bedroom at night, where we're able to see so much. Despite the wide shot, we're unable to see a cause of the disturbances, which only adds to the tension; In that single static shot we, as viewers, feel vulnerable.

This nighttime shot is key to what makes Paranormal Activity terrifying: it evokes a strong feeling of voyeurism, of violation of privacy; Ever get lightheaded when you enter someone else's bedroom? In a nutshell we, the audience, know we shouldn't be seeing this. You don't watch someone sleep! It subtly helps to grow a nervousness, a desire to get out of there before we're caught and scolded for peeping. But we're at the mercy of the camera. Again, that sense of vulnerability is compounded by the voyeuristic nervousness inherent in watching someone sleep.

The movie also breaks a big bedroom taboo: leaving the door open. Why do we close the door? The bedroom is an intensely private place, and we carefully choose who we let inside. Leaving the door open is a sign of invitation, but who wants to be there while you sleep? The destruction of this boundary inflicts a feeling of unfamiliarity, which if properly exploited, grows into tension, and then into fear.

From a visual composition standpoint, by leaving the door open we are subjected to the deep three-dimensional space of the hallway. We aren't that used to having this kind of three-dimensional space so consistently in film, and it gives our eyes too much to look at. You invariably explore, watching the couple, the time code, the open door, and darting your eyes between them over and over again, waiting for something, anything, to happen. The first-time audience never knows where to look. So they'll often scream out of sync; some will see elements before others do. At what point did you notice that the time code was being fast-forwarded? Maybe your eyes were glued to the hallway. Or maybe you were watching the time code and didn't notice the dark movement to the left; someone in the audience screams, and you don't know why. Now you're dealing with confusion on top of everything else. Your mind runs circles during these still scenes, looking for traditional visual cues; something to lead the eye, or indicate an impending action. But you never get it.

Paranormal Activity is almost masterfully designed to exploit expectation. The exploitation of expectation is the very thing that grows tension and suspense. It is also what may turn many off to this film. Is there too much space, too much setting? If more movies were made in this way, the answer would probably be yes, but the rare exception makes the use of emptiness and inaction beautiful. Our first encounter with emptiness occurs with the open bedroom door and the empty hallway. It feels like we spend half the movie looking down that hallway. Waiting. When we think it's coming, it doesn't. How does it feel to wait for something when you're not supposed to be looking there anyhow? More boundary destruction breeds more fear. In scenes in which Micah takes the camera exploring, hunting for explanations, we expect something behind every door he opens, every curtain he pulls back. When are we going to see something disturbing? We never know. We're kept on our toes.

Watching Paranormal Activity, the audience is constantly assaulted by discomfort, taboos, and boundary invasion. It is not a gore-fest, nor is it a brainless, senses-attacking, action-packed thriller. It is a deliberately-paced, meticulously controlled exercise in stimulus response that, if you open yourself up to it, will stay inside your head long after you've left the theater.

tl;dr?

It's Terrifying! Watch it.

Interesting Post Script: On my way home from seeing this movie, just before I was approaching my house, the headlights on my car started flickering off. A scary thing to happen on any night, to be sure, but doubly so with the events of that movie on my mind. What's more, it hasn't happened again. Only that night. Curious.

Good review, it was nice how you analyzed specifically what parts of the movie made it fear-inducing.

Personally, I'm in the group of people whose suspension of disbelief doesn't go far enough to appreciate this movie. A lot of the movie consisted of me thinking how the characters aren't relateable in any way because normal people with any sort of common sense wouldn't act like this, screaming at Micah in my own mind for being an idiot, and fumbling my iPod during the "suspense" sequences so I could distract myself from the fact that I actually paid money to see this cavalcade of boredom in a theater.

But to each their own. From a purely technical standpoint, and from the standpoint of examining how human fear works, Paranormal Activity is quite a good movie. However, I watch movies to be entertained and this didn't entertain me.

There's going to be people like you, who see an unappreciated diamond in the rough, who really enjoy this movie, and get involved with the suspense and atmosphere, and enjoy the ghost lore surrounding it. Then there's people like me who don't believe in ghosts or who rely on character connections to make a good movie, and will probably find it uninteresting.

Interesting you said Cloverfield was too polished. I didn't like it for a whole different set of reasons (ie unlikeable characters, tendency to ignore THE CENTRAL IDEA), but I thought it was generally well received.

The great thing is that they're playing this movie at the Kinepolis Halloween Night. The event starts at 10:30 PM and it's scheduled as the third movie so I'm expecting it to begin around 2:30 AM. Good stuff :)

Not a bad review, pretty intricate and well thought out.

Now, I won't be seeing this movie, but your review makes think "Hey, maybe I shou- No I'm to much of a pansy and I'd leave in the middle."

Mrsnugglesworth:
Now, I won't be seeing this movie, but your review makes think "Hey, maybe I shou- No I'm to much of a pansy and I'd leave in the middle."

That made me laugh

Very nice, Never seen it yet.

I'm going to go see this movie this weekend, as it finally released in the Ritz nearby. I've heard people say it is and isn't scary, but I've heard that the movie is getting backlash now because it's getting popular. So I'm gonna go see it no matter what anyone says at this point.

Honestly, this was also the first movie that really scared me. A week later, I still think about some of the more frightening scenes as I attempt to sleep. During the final scene, you are almost at a panic, begging (spolier removed) not to look at the damn camera. Please don't look, PLEASE! I kicked the seat in front of me so hard during that scene that it cracked. You know what, the guy in front of me didn't notice, he was to busy screaming. Seriously, this movie takes your mind and makes it truly dread the night scenes.

 

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