After experiencing what they think are a series of "break-ins", a family sets up security cameras around their home, only to realize that the events unfolding before them are more sinister than they seem.
After a young, middle class couple moves into a suburban 'starter' tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to. Written by
I was fortunate to see this film about a year ago, and have become curious as to why it still has not seen the light of day. A little research has indicated it still might.
The storytelling here is simple but also inspired. Young couple Katie and Micah plan to film their home at night while sleeping in hopes of capturing evidence of a ghost that seems to haunting them, or more precisely Katie, since this is not the first time she has experienced these type of visitations. We watch the footage of the young couple sleeping and gradually things do start to happen. Katie and Micah also film themselves discussing the situation, a visit from a spiritualist, and a few other random moments. Doesn't sound like much, right? Or that it could possibly be the slightest bit scary. Well, Oren Peli's little indie film is everything a scary movie should be. In other words, it is indeed very scary.
Peli accomplishes the improbable through utilizing tension, character and imagination. The found footage concept used in the movie, a la "Blair Witch", "Cloverfield" and the recent "Quarantine", is perhaps slightly more effective in this situation. It's usually a still camera with things sometimes occurring just beyond what we can see. The result is a heightened sense of reality and a greater sense of dread as to what those sounds could be. We've all been there. We here a noise out in the dark and are frightened by the unknown. Peli seems to understand this greatly and uses it to great effect. When the camera does move it is often done slowly, perhaps in an effort to avoid the shaky-cam effect, but it also helps create greater tension.
But perhaps the one element most important to this film's success is the performance by Katie Featherston. In the beginning we meet a sweet young woman who has concerns about what could be happening to her. Perhaps a metaphor for fears regarding her relationship with Micah and their new home. As we approach the final scenes, Katie has been reduced to a person on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and we are deeply concerned for her well being. Each night as our young couple goes off to sleep we experience a deeper and greater dread that something bad is going to happen, and we don't like it. It helps that Ms. Featherston is an unknown (it's difficult to imagine caring this way about a recognizable actor) but her ability to create a believable and sympathetic character is remarkable and turns an effective thriller into something extraordinary.
It's not often that a movie will truly have me on the edge of my seat. Watching it I was reminded of those days long ago when I first saw "The Exorcist", "Halloween" and "Alien"; movies that have stayed with me over time as moments spent in a theatre genuinely frightened. It doesn't happen that often anymore, movies are either too gimmicky or too unbelievable or too music video flashy to get to me. But a little movie made with no money and no special effects did. To the cast and crew of "Paranormal Activity" - Thank you!
p.s. with regards to the future of this movie, the latest news is that it will be released and not remade as earlier planned. No idea when that will happen, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this special little film doesn't get left on a shelf.
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