Picture the scene. Drew and I are driving to one of the late night preview showings of the U.S. hit horror film Paranormal Activity. It’s Friday 13th, the cinema is situated just a stone’s throw away from the beach and the UK’s South West coast is being battered by one of the worst storms of the year.
The movie’s opening introduction leads you believe that the events are based on a true story. It informs us that Paramount would like to thank the families of Micah and Katie, as well as the San Diego Police Department, for their co-operation and support with the film. The film is the story of Katie and Micah, a carefree couple who become haunted by a presence in their home. They decide to capture video evidence of the increasingly bizarre and escalating intrusions of what turns out to be a demonic presence in their house.
The movie starts with Micah testing out the camera which he’s bought to document the incidents that have started to occur in the home he shares with Katie. It’s all very cute and twee between the couple as the play with their new toy. There’s nothing to hint that there’s anything really happening that has them worried for their safety. Having finally gotten into the bed, the camera set up on a tripod records the sleeping couple. This we see speeded up until something important happens, which we as the viewer (voyuer?) have to see. At first, we hear noises emanating from various parts of the house. During the day, objects are found not in their usual place and so on.
We soon find out that Katie has been experiencing these paranormal activities since the age of eight. During a visit from Dr. Fredrichs, a self-professed psychic, he assesses that they are being plagued by a demon which feeds off “negative energy” and is intent on haunting Katie no matter where she goes. Dr. Fredrichs also recommends the two contact Dr. Abrams, a demonologist. Micah’s reluctance to do so and his need to capture more evidence leads to frequent arguments between the couple. In fact, while Katie just wants to end the haunting, Micah seems hell bent on provoking the demon and playing the part of the boyfriend defending his distressed girlfriend.
As the tension builds between the two protagonists so does the demonic acts plaguing the beleaguered couple. For those audience members caught up in the movie the night time scenes are very tense and at times very frightening.
Paranormal Activity is similar to The Blair Witch Project, with a tiny cast, small budget and minimal special effects. From happy go lucky characters at the start of the film, to tense feelings towards each of the characters at the end, Paranormal Activity also follows a familiar path. In fact, one night time scene where Katie spends hours standing over Micah as he sleeps reminded me of Mikey from The Blair Witch Project. That film’s mythology has one victim standing still in the corner of a room while the Blair Witch kills another.
As for the “self-filmed” quality of the movie, what I like was that the beginning of the movie had Katie chastise Micah for spending more money than agreed on a big camera and good microphones. For the most part, the camera is also static, either on it’s tripod or on a table or counter. The only time the camera is moving is when Micah or Katie are trying to document the demon’s activity and it’s so much a better film for it.
When the special effects include a hair dryer and talcum powder you know you’re in trouble.
This movie was always going to divide opinion between Drew and I. He doesn’t “do” mocukmentory or schlock horror films, whereas I love them. Also anything that is, or even made out to be, based on true events scares the shit out of me. For Drew it was more a case of chuckling at the lacklustre special effects and holding my hand when I started to get freaked. And although you could argue that the film was nothing more than a build up to two very quick successive scares, I leave you with this thought – I spent the following two hours after viewing Paranormal Activity in front of the TV watching comedy and trying not to think about going to bed and demonic hauntings.
Paranormal Activity will open in cinemas everywhere across the UK on Wednesday 25th November 2009.
Certificate 15 / Running Time 85 minutes