Paranormal Activity

Director    Oren Peli
Starring    Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Ashley Palmer, Amber Armstrong, Randy McDowell, Tim Piper
Release    16 OCT (US) 25 NOV (UK)    Certificate 15
5 stars


23rd November 2009

What happens when you sleep? So asked Israeli-born filmmaker Oren Peli, who, after moving into a suburban San Diego tract house, discovered that odd, unsettling things began to occur in the house. Books inexplicably fell off of shelves. Strange noises were heard in the night... but whereas lesser mortals may have called in a priest or even a Ghostbuster, Peli thought that living in a spook house might make for a nice little horror flick.

Thus, Paranormal Activity was born.

The film kicks off simply enough with a note of grateful acknowledgement to the families of Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston, and to the San Diego Police Department for their assistance. This is the first hint and a half that the shit is gonna go down. Hard.

Katie and Micah are a young, charming couple - engaged to be engaged, as they describe it - and set up household together after dating for three years. We come to their story as Micah is playing with his new toy, a camcorder bought for the specific purpose of documenting certain unexplainable events that Katie claims to have been plaguing her.

The story builds slowly, pulls you into their home and their relationship so that you feel you have known these people all your life. Katie and Micah are naturally attractive people - there is no hint of artifice in either their personalities, their physical presentation or their interaction with each other as a couple. You cannot help but simply like these people... so when strange things begin to happen in the dead of night, their terror slowly becomes your terror.

[gallery]We learn as the story progresses that Katie has been plagued by a presence since she was a small child, and this entity is explained to be not simply your garden-variety poltergeist, but an actual demon. It is never actually discovered how this infernal spirit came to be attached to Katie, but events later in the film reveal that similar things happened to another young woman in the 1960s - a young woman who eventually had to endure a full-blown and possibly lethal exorcism - and Micah theorizes that the same spirit simply jumped to Katie.

They invite a psychic investigator into their home to help get rid of the uninvited entity, but demons just aren't his thing and he recommends that they seek the help of a demonologist. Micah, feeling his masculinity threatened by some invisible force he cannot control, does what any red-blooded male might do and calls the demon out. Bad, bad, bad mistake. Dude clearly never went to Sunday School as a kid. Throw a Ouija board into the mix, and you've got yourself a serious devil problem. As Katie says, "Demons suck."

That demon may suck, but he is a master at playing with their minds. Within days, the lack of sleep and the anger and fear of dealing with something so completely evil and alien begins to take a toll on the couple. Micah becomes obsessed with communicating with it, to find out what it wants. Katie, the demon's primary target, simply wants it to go away. Unfortunately for our spiritually beleaguered couple, Beelzebub isn't about to go anywhere until he gets what he wants.

The film moves from daytime expository scenes to heart-pounding and eventually terrifying nighttime scenes using a static camera in the couple's bedroom. The special effects are minimal at best - most of the effects are auditory: heavy footsteps, a low frequency hum, thunderous pounding. Director Oren Peli knows that it's what's unseen that scares the living shit out of us, and he slowly torques up the terror by showing just enough to make you dread the coming night.

The film is first and foremost a mind-blowing psychological gut-fuck, and by the time the activities veer completely out of control, the viewer is literally screaming right along with our poor, hapless couple. The latest trailer for the film actually intercuts scenes filmed in a movie theater where Paranormal Activity was screened, and those audience reaction shots were genuine. More, those reactions were not limited to that single test audience, as the theater where this reviewer saw the film exploded in shrieks of absolute terror as the story pounded its way to its inevitable conclusion.

Upon leaving the theater, big strong men were shaking in their boots and their women were wiping frightened tears from their eyes. Having seen the film - and the audience response - for myself, this reviewer can only say that the hype is well deserved. Paranormal Activity isn't just a scary movie, it's one of the scariest movies ever made, and may even top The Exorcist in terms of sheer, gut-wrenching horror.

Make sure you bring an extra pair of underpants because you're likely to need them.

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