Thursday, October 28, 2010

Paranormal Activity

I don't usually catch horror movies in theaters.  This is partly because I go to the movies with my wife and she's a horror wuss, and partly because I'm not a huge fan of listening to teenagers explaining the movie to each other.  That is why, despite the ridiculous amount of success that Paranormal Activity had last year, I had not watched the movie until just recently.

The set-up is pretty basic.  Katie (Katie Featherston) lives with her boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), in a pretty nice house.  Katie insists that she is being haunted by a ghost or something; she hears things in the night, finds items moved in the morning, and has even heard something whisper her name in the dark.  Micah is less convinced, but he's committed to being halfway supportive of his woman.  You gotta admire the man's half-assed support.  Katie consults with a psychic, who is pretty confident that Katie does not have a ghost problem.  She has a demon problem.  That sucks, right?  The psychic doesn't know how to help with demons, so he recommends they consult a demonologist friend of his ASAP and, in the meantime, don't piss off the demon.  Sounds pretty reasonable.  Micah is not buying any of that psychic mumbo jumbo, though, and convinces Katie to let him handle things himself.  Micah had already purchased a high-end video camera to record their days and a digital audio recorder to catch subtle noises in the night, and he throws himself into finding any signs of X-Files-type stuff.  Step one is mounting the camera on a tripod to record the night's happenings.  Step two is ***muble mumble mumble*** and step three is, of course, profit.  At first, it's pretty minor stuff, like some bumps in the night, or a door opening and closing itself by a few inches in the dead of night.  The more Micah finds, the more he wants to find, so he starts heckling the demon.  Remember what the psychic said about angering that thing?  Kids, don't do as Donnie Don't does.

The first thing you will notice about this movie is the hand-held camera work.  Don't worry, it's not like that the entire time.  In fact, most of the big action scenes happen at night, when the camera is mounted on a tripod while they sleep, so you don't have to worry about any Blair Witch-style motion sickness.  I'm not always a fan of movies that aim for a documentary feel to them, but writer/director Oren Peli makes good use of the style here.  I liked the camera's footage during the nighttime hours; when nothing was going on, the footage would go into fast forward, but when something was going to happen, time slowed back down.  Since a lot of the demon's work was quiet noises or small movements, I found myself leaning forward, paying special attention to those scenes.  Of course, that left me wide open for a jolt when the sound or whatever was loud and sudden.  The build-up for these scenes is pretty good, so these little scares don't feel cheap, as they often do in slasher movies ("Oh, it's just the cat" KNIFE IN THE FACE!).

There is one obstacle to enjoying this film.  That would be Micah.  Man, is his character annoying.  Micah the actor is fine, I guess, but the character is is a size 14 asshat, and that's pretty huge in hat sizes.  Has he never seen a horror movie before?  "Oh, I've got proof that something supernatural is going on around me.  I better taunt it and challenge it to fight me."  It's like this, kids, even if you don't believe that Jason Voorhies can rise from the grave and murder you, you still don't go to camp Crystal Lake to have premarital sex and take drugs.  Seriously, everything bad that happens in this movie is so obviously Micah's fault because it is all caused by him being douchey.  The fact that Katie lives with him makes her less likable, too, and (aside from dating Micah) she is one of the most reasonable female leads I have ever seen in a horror movie.

Look, if you try at all, you will be able to predict where the plot is heading.  This movie isn't going to scare everyone, and I totally understand anyone who tires of the film because Micah's an idiot.  I did jump when the movie wanted me to, though.  I watched the movie alone in the dark and then went straight to bed and, I'll admit it, I spent a few minutes being creeped out by the noises in my home.  Of course, then I realized that I was freaking myself out and got over it, because I'm a man.  It is what it is (at its core, a pretty standard haunting movie), but it's a very good example of what it is (I just told you what).  If haunting-type movies freak you out, then this movie should do the trick.  If you're more into gory movies or psychological thrillers, then you might want to take a pass.  Personally, I'm not a big fan of haunting movies, but I thought this was pretty solid.  If half of the characters weren't terminally stupid and annoying, then this might be a classic.  But man, that Micah is dumb.


  1. Definitely the best film about a demon that involves a hand held camera and is shot in California. You know what it could have used a lot more of? "Oh, it's just the cat" KNIFE IN THE FACE! But, I think that for most movies, especially Gone With the Wind.

  2. That cat must be in on it. It seems like it's the same damn cat in every horror movie. But, then again, I'm pretty racist with cats; I think they all look the same.