Paranormal Activity is unlike anything I have seen. During my first year in college, this film was all the rage. I remember seeing commercials of people reacting to this movie in theaters which gave me chills but intrigued me as the 2007 film offered a new experience. The idea of creating a movie using the simplest of techniques—a home video shaky-cam style—-isn’t exactly a new concept, but Paranormal Activity reignited the found footage genre made popular by the likes of the Blair Witch Project. When I finally saw the film, I was blown away. It felt like everything was happening in real-time. Paranormal Activity seemed like Goosebumps being brought to life. I think R.L Stine would be impressed.
The story follows a couple, Micah and Katie, in San Diego. A malevolent demon has haunted Katie since childhood. She consults a psychic who says there might be…. shall I say, a disturbance in the Force. Micah decides to record any instances of such a demonic presence. You can tell he is a little skeptical, but he might as well dot his i’s and cross his t’s. His decision to record the ghostly happenings around Katie and the house seems like the right call, but the psychic advises him to hire a specialist—a job most suited for Ed and Lorraine Warren or Sam and Dean Winchester.
The camera captures some strange things happening, such as objects moving on their own, sudden small noises, flickering lights, and the occasional bout of Katie sleepwalking. The camera captures one moment where Katie stares at her boyfriend for two hours straight. Now, this was funny when Alec Baldwin pulled a similar move to Steve Martin as a hilarious bit at the academy awards, but there’s something sinister in the way Katie fixates on Micah.
I got a bad feeling about this.
Towards the end of the film, Katie is bitten by the dark presence, marking a tipping point for Micah. He considers leaving Katie, but he eventually chooses to stay with her, which I understand. I get his desire to protect Katie and stand by her despite everything that’s transpired. However, Katie seems to have succumbed to the will of the dark presence and repeats her first weird stare-down and disappears out of frame, spelling doom for Micah. He wakes up to answer her pleas for help and is killed. Micah’s body is found, but Katie goes missing. Before she fled, her reaction to the ordeal explains all you need to know.
Something wicked this way comes.
I enjoyed this film. I had no idea what was going to happen next. Each hair-raising moment was so sudden, and the suspense and tension kept building until an explosive climax. I later got the chance to watch The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, and it is clear to see why this style of filmmaking seems to work. It’s fast-paced and forces everyone to work on their feet quickly. It’s not stylized yet gritty, so it feels you are a part of the story. I can’t imagine being in a theater watching this for the first time with a crowd.
This film was shot for $15,000, and after a successful test screening, Paramount bought the rights and invested more money in the budget to alter the ending. The original ending and alternate ending are quite as thrilling but would have made this a standalone film. Those are worth reading and watching if you get the chance. I am glad the changes were made since we got several new installments in the franchise, including the recently released Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin.
Paranormal Activity is proof word of mouth can have an impact. The odds were in their favor for director Oren Peli and his crew and cast. This man went full Robert Rodriguez, also writing, producing, editing, and providing cinematography. He encouraged his actors to improvise, giving them outlines of the story and allowing them the freedom to explore a more natural dialogue. Anyways, I am glad this was a risk worth taking. The found footage genre continues to be popular; even television series like Supernatural dabble with found footage.
When done right, it’s a clever way to tell stories and encourages the audience to participate in what’s happening on-screen. The genre doesn’t work for everyone, but it creates an extra sense of horrifying realism. Give the movie a chance; despite its format, the film is cinematic. I hope this style of film-making continues for many more years to come.