Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paranormal Activity

Year: 2009
Director: Oren Peli
Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

When it came to this film, I was torn between thinking I was going to be bored to death or being scared shitless like I was when I first saw Gore Verbinski's The Ring. And I carried this feeling into the theatre yesterday as I geared up to watch Paranormal Activity.

For those of you who don't know, Paranormal Activity is a low budget horror film in the same vein with The Blair Witch Project. It was made a few years back, but is only gaining recognition now, thanks to Steven Spielberg who changed the original ending and Paramount Pictures for giving it exposure.

Like Blair Witch, Cloverfield and Quarantine before it, Paranormal is made up of camera footage, this time recorded in a house occupied by a young couple. Katie and Micah have just recently moved in together, and they have a problem. Katie claims to have been haunted by a mysterious force since she was little, and it has been following her on and off. Micah decides to install a camera in their bedroom to record any weird phenomenon going on while they sleep.

And indeed, the camera records some strange occurences, like the door moving by itself, unexplainable shadows, loud thumps and footsteps and lights going on and off. There is also an incident where Katie sleepwalks and has no memory of it the next morning. Soon, Katie and Micah get into heated debates on how to handle the situation e.g. Katie hires a psychic to evaluate her problem, but Micah doesn't believe in him. Micah attempts to use an Ouija board, and Katie vehemently objects. All this make matters worse when the demonic force switches into high gear in the third act.

First time director Oren Peli used his own house to make this film, and I gotta say, it's a nice house. Lots of room, two bathrooms, a swimming pool outside. If I hadn't seen this film, I'd like to live there heheh. But jokes aside, Peli manages to scare the audience half the time, usually when the couple is asleep and the camera is rolling. There's a clock at the lower right corner of the screen to indicate the time of the happenings, and it adds to the suspense. Unlike other films, this one scares you by emphasizing what you can't see and not what you can see.

Katie and Micah, who use their real names here, have no prior acting experience, but are excellent in their roles as the hapless couple. There's always an advantage of not using established actors in films like these; it makes them more real and you won't be distracted by any star quality famous actors have.

Are there any downsides? Yes. For a film that is only 90 minutes long, it feels much longer than that. The story takes a little too long to unfold, as we are made to watch the bedroom goings on one after another. The psychic's second visit to the house, which is of no benefit to the couple, makes no sense in the way it was executed in the film. And why do these two sleep with the door open? Is that an American thing, or are they so keen on inviting some otherworldly thing in?

It does have a chilling ending though, one that might stick in your mind for a while. Spielberg reportedly recommended this ending, and after discovering what the original ending was, I think Spielberg did the right thing. The last 15 minutes just manages to lift this film above average.

Good for at least one watch. Not for the weak hearted. (3.5/5)

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