Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Written & Directed By: Oren Peli
Paranormal Activity is about as minimalist filmmaking as you can get. It adopts the documentary/ found footage movie style very literally. No CGI effects, black outs, or high pitched screeching noises. Majority of the time we see whatever the camera does without outside interference. A great deal of the time these are things that our characters can’t see, but suspect are lurking around them when they check out for the night. The cast is made up of only 4 actors and the house is the only location, adding to the closed in feel of a haunted house. It’s a very nice, modern house too. Sure, an old, gothic house could add to the creepiness, but the point that is made is that it’s not about the house, it’s about the girl this ghost is after.
Katie (Featherston) has been haunted ever since she was 8-years old. She has felt a ghostly spirit on and off since then, even when living in different houses. Her first house caught on fire unexplainably. The house she lived in after that as well as her current house, where she lives with her boyfriend of 3 years, Micah (Sloat), has the same presence as well. The image of the ghost appeared before her and her sister when they were kids. Even now faucets will turn on by themselves and Katie will hear the spirit calling out her name. Fearful for her safety, Katie calls in a demonologist. He tells her that he can feel the spirit and that it won’t do any good to leave since it will simply follow Katie. He gives her the number of another demonologist who can help her get rid of the spirit once and for all.
Micah is determined to take care of the problem himself since it has intruded on his house and his girlfriend’s wellbeing is at stake. He sets up a video camera and records all hours of the day and even more importantly leaves it rolling all night while they sleep. At first they don’t notice anything, but the more they roll the tape the more things stand out to them. There are groans, sudden door slams, and their entire house shakes one night. The demon even gets under the covers of their bed several nights and drags Katie across the house. Micah gets a Ouija board after promising Katie he wouldn’t. She fears that he is only provoking the spirit. Micah puts down powder in the room entrance to see if anything is entering their room. The next morning foot prints reveal an old paranormal photo of Katie’s that she hasn’t seen since she was 8. Things get worse and worse, to the point where they’re not sure if anyone can help them.
The film is very funny throughout between the interaction and dialogue between Katie and Micah. They act like your average couple, giving us a very personal view of them through video taping their conscious lives as well as the night hours that they have no control over. Both Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat did an excellent job hitting all the right marks while not seeming like they were acting at all. They were both very likable and having no name actors was really the only way to have this effect of feeling like you were viewing a frightening piece of these people’s life.
It’s really the little things that make Paranormal Activity such an effective ghost film. The comedy between the characters puts you off your guard at times. Compared to vast majority of ghost films there is so little action that it makes you pay attention to every little detail much more than you normally would. You know something is going to happen, you just don’t know when or what.
There is an overwhelming stillness that takes over you particularly during the night scenes. Our characters are sleeping; there is nothing to distract us. It’s the time when the demon acts. As the time goes on, it is clear that things will just get worse and worse, which ups the anticipation even more. The door slamming, dragging, and quick movement of the covers are moments full of gratifying excitement after anticipating the activity for so long and so intently. It also just seems more realistic. Most likely you haven’t seen a massive ghostly figure before you threatening your life. On the other hand, you might have heard similar creaking and movement in your house at night, just dismissing it as an old house or your imagination getting the better of you.
Paranormal Activity gives you a lot more reasons to be scared or relate to the fear and uncertainty that the characters are facing than most horror films. A major part of my enjoyment and involvement in watching the film was because I was watching it in a packed theater with everyone on edge, expanding exhilaration. Clearly, this is not a film for everyone since it is really about the little things that make you jump. For those that are looking for blood and effects, this is not the film for you. It’s a film that showcases what making the most of your resources can do and that sometimes less is more.