For an obvious rip-off of The Blair Witch Project or various TV shows which use the same kind of atmospheric approach to documenting paranormal activities (notably A&E's "Paranormal State" or "Psychic Kids"), Oren Peli's new film Paranormal Activity is sort of a gem, quite effective and enjoyable.
Like Blair Witch, the film purports to be "actual footage" of real events. Like Cloverfield or Quarantine, however, some visual effects are used quite sparingly to pay off the supernatural story, and, as in the latter two films, this is effective.
The two main characters, who share their names with the actors, are Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, a young couple who live in a suburban house in San Diego, and who set up a video camera to document a haunting or possession Katie has been experiencing since she was eight years old.
The chief pleasure of the film is watching the two characters interact as events progress, and the haunting gets more and more serious. We watch their playful, tense, and then more seriously weird interplay, alternating with nighttime shots of their bedroom, with both asleep or awakened by different occurrences, the left side of the screen dominated by an increasingly interesting view of their open bedroom door and the hallway beyond.
It doesn't sound like much to work with, so it's a tribute to Peli's keen sense of suspense and economical use of effects that it turns out to be plenty enough to work with to terrify the audience.
The film does threaten to get boring--and that's when it stops being boring. I mean, literally the second my rear end started to hurt and I wondered if it was going to be worth the wait, the suspense built up so far started to pay off well and interestingly.
It also stretches believability a bit that the characters react certain ways and get certain responses, when other ways for it to work out seem to make more sense, but this is not a big complaint. The actors make the characters believable with a sort of relentless ordinariness and charm.
There are also questions raised about the nature of the events which are never quite resolved, but in the end, it doesn't matter or take away from a tense if subdued thriller. The "actual footage" is allowed to speak for itself, and it provides most of what's needed.
Paranormal Activity isn't groundbreaking, but it's well done, convincing and respectful of the audience and its own rules. See it for the tense atmosphere and the strong performances by Featherston and Sloat.
Followed by Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
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