Saturday, October 03, 2009

Paranormal Activity (***)

Paranormal Activity. 99 mins. R. Written and Directed by Oren Peli. Starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat.

You may not have heard of Paranormal Activity yet, but you soon will. It's one of the more effective scare stories in recent years, shot on a shoestring budget of $11,000. Ever since it premiered at a couple of film festivals in '07 and '08, positive word of mouth has spread, with some proclaiming it one of the scariest movies of all time. I don't think that's true, and if you can cut through all the over-hype about this being the next Blair Witch Project, what you'll find is an inventive, gore-free thriller. The story is simple enough - a young couple who just moved in together feel their house is haunted (doors closing shut, windows opening, etc) so they buy a camera and film their bedroom at night. It's the same shot scattered throughout the film (see the poster at the left) and there's always a ticking clock in the bottom right corner of the screen. Although the movie can get a little repetitive at times (the couple joke around in the daytime; get scared at nighttime), there's no denying that whenever the movie cuts to the nighttime footage of their bedroom, things get creepy and a sense of dread washes over the audience. Credit should go to writer-director Oren Peli, who shows a nice grasp of mounting tension and never goes for the easy scare (save for the money shot at the end, and some unfortunate CGI that follows). I was also impressed with the acting by newbies Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. These aren't great performances or anything, but they are quite good for the genre. Paranormal Activity is fun to watch with a theater full of people, but I think it might actually be scarier if you avoid seeing it in the theater. Don't read anything more about it. Rent it when it comes on DVD, watch it by yourself at midnight, and you're sure to get the chills.

- John


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