Firstly, you need to know that this review is ABSOLUTELY SPOILER FREE. I didn’t even watch the newly-released trailer for this film and I am glad I did not. The best way to watch it is without knowing the details. Secondly, I am probably not supposed to be posting this, but not very many people read this blog anyway and it’s a rave review so it won’t hurt anything. Thirdly, I watched the original version of the film that was screened at Screamfest and purchased by Paramount. Apparently, there has been some re-editing of the film and the addition of a couple shots.
Now that the disclaimers are done, I can tell you what I thought of the film. Paranormal Activity is a found footage film, where the material is shot through a camera that a couple set up in their home after experiencing some abnormal occurrences at night. Hoping to document the activity, things get worse and worse. I watched Paranormal Activity with about 30 others, which made for a fun experience, but I also wonder what it would have been like to watch it alone…in my own home…at night. Viewing it in that way could possibly be an unbearably tense event, as the movie is sure to be one of the creepiest things that will unfold before your eyes. The audience reactions in the trailer for this film are not an exaggeration. People were literally calling out, covering their eyes, jumping around in their seats, and begging for the tension to be released. And I watched this with a crowd of film students and filmmakers—not 13-year-old girls that jump whenever the phone rings. Every time the lights go out and the couple goes to sleep, the entire room grew cold with white-knuckled hands and distraught faces.
Every time you see this camera setup, you will instantly get nervous.
Shot for $11,000 in a single week, Paranormal Activity does not rely on gimmicks and elaborate scenarios to frighten moviegoers. Instead, it utilizes simple, effective occurrences that make you believe this is really happening. In fact, a lot of what works is not what you see, but what you don’t. Like every good horror film, Paranormal Activity shows patience through slowly accelerating the intensity of the nightly experiences. Sound plays a large role in the creepiness of the movie, as we often hear noises and are left to imagine what might be the cause of the sounds.
The found footage aspect of the film works remarkably well. By including a lot of shots of the happy couple goofing around for the camera, doing mundane things, and performing dialogue that feels mostly unscripted, the film plays off more believably. There is a perfect mixture of amateur camerawork, as well as shots that are composed with precision. One of the greatest challenges of a found footage movie is obtaining near-perfect performances. What passes in a standard cinematic experience does not pass through the lens of a shaky camcorder as easily. There are a few moments here and there when I do not buy the actors, but when it matters, I am 100% in the moment and completely enthralled by the events on screen.
They look like normal people, which is refreshing.
The movie I watched was 99 minutes and I’m guessing that at least five minutes will be shaved off through Paramount’s re-edit. Although it was fantastic, it does feel long because it is so tense. In fact, one woman said that she felt like she had just given birth because it was so draining to watch. She was right. It isn’t until the film is over that you feel like you can breathe again. And 99 minutes is a long time to go without air. I’m curious to see what other changes will be made to the film. I’m guessing some trimming, the addition of CG-enhanced shots, and some audio dubbing. I just hope they don’t dress this up too much because it is the simplicity, both in terms of aesthetics and scary events, that make Paranormal Activity such a brilliant movie.
You may look like this the whole time.
I will definitely be going to the cinemas when this comes out. It will be opening September 25th in select theatres, but will most likely expand to more cities if the positive buzz continues to swarm. If you can’t make it to the theatres, don’t worry. In some ways, I wish I could have experienced this film for the first time at home so that it would be most impactful. Regardless of how you watch it, this movie is guaranteed to creep you out.