demons & possessions

[Movie Review] Paranormal Activity (2007) ★★★★★

Katie and Micah scared in bed in Paranormal Activity 2007

Paranormal Activity unleashes maximum scares with little means.


Paranormal Activity is a supernatural occult found footage horror film that really does know how to scare with little means. The premise is simple, the setting a house, the key players are a couple, and the footage is shot with a camcorder to create a very intimate and up-close story of pure terror. Every scene is functional and there are no distractions that stray away from the story about a woman being terrorized by an unknown presence in the middle of the night. For those of us who are afraid of the dark, who see shadows creeping up the wall while lying in bed at night, and who have a big imagination, this film is going to be a nightmare ride.


Plot

It all starts at September 18, 2006 in San Diego, when Micah brings home an camcorder to record the strange things that happen at night. Katie thinks she is being harassed by an unknown entity, but Micah thinks it’s just kids playing a prank. But after they have installed the camera in their bedroom and watch the footage the next day, something is amiss in their house, that might be haunted. And when Micah plays with an ouija board, after specifically told not to, all hell breaks loose.


Why you should watch it

Paranormal Activity has very simple plot, but therein lies the strength of the film. It’s so normal, a normal house, a normal couple, realistic conversations and behavior, that it all seems all too real. Building a basis that is highly believable, makes the hauntings also more believable and slowly the viewer is sucked into the terror Katie and Micah go through. 

The scares have a great buildup, that go from bad to worse. It starts out very subtle, but it gets more intense and frightening along the way, terrorizing the couple. But it’s not all about the scares, there’s also a mystery. It’s not just a movie that relies on jump scares, but it creates a terrifying atmosphere, through the cinematography of the “real footage” Katie and Micah watch. And it also slowly creates a background story that increases the mystery instead of fully explaining it, leaving a lot of room for future films to explore the mythology behind it. 

The reason why the film is so scary to most of us, is that it addresses inbuilt human fears. Fear of the dark, something, a predator, lurking in the dark, ready to devour us. Fear of the unknown, something that cannot be seen and therefore not be fought. Our childhood fears that there really is a ghost or monster hiding under our bed or in the closet. Paranormal Activity makes excellent use of these fears we all carry with us, although in varying degrees. 

How the story unfolds is told in a very natural way. Building upon the normal couple and environment. Their search to explain it all, follows a logical path from the camcorder to a medium Dr Frederiksen and eventually to desperation, real fear and their eventual fate. The absence of music also makes it more realistic, for a real found footage film doesn’t have music to increase the atmosphere. While the sound effects also feel very realistic as does the audio when they talk.

The hauntings are subtle and simple but are all the more realistic for it. The tapping sounds, the sound of running footsteps, footsteps audibly ascending the stairs. The wide shot of the bedroom and the door that is ajar, but sometimes pushed further open or slammed shut. Katie’s sleepwalking outings. On paper these are very cliched horror tropes to scare, but they work really well to create an absolute terrifying atmosphere. Just by keeping the scares subtle and small, never overdoing it, keeps it realistic and gives the illusion it could happen to you in your house. 

The fear Katie and Micah express is also very tangible, and that rubs off on the audience. Their actions are very logically and natural, not at all how most characters behave in the world of movies, but they carry out actions that you might have done too. Like sprinkling flour into the floor to see if a psychical but invisible entity really roams the house. Or that Micah isn’t so keen into believing that they are dealing with a demon or ghost or entity at first. 

It’s a very well-made film that makes excellent use of cliche scare tactics but turns them into something so mundane and back to basic that it becomes real scary again. Heavily relying on atmosphere, suggestion and disturbing events that unfold, this movie is more than a simple scary movie. It has become real life night terrors. 


My favorite part

The fact that the film manages to let the viewer sit on the edge of their seat the whole time during the movie, is a great feat. It has created an atmosphere where you can expect anything at any time. The tension is relentless and never leaves the house or the screen, while staying very elusive and mysterious and without ever showing the entity itself, only a shape. It’s not even show don’t tell but it’s don’t show suggest. Put a scary thought into the minds of the viewers and build on that, creating something so horribly scary  that you don’t want to see it. Like when you hid under the covers when you were a child. 

Every bit of haunting I enjoyed fully. I really do like it when a film manages to scare me what only a few films do. But Paranormal Activity gives me the shivers every time I watch it. It never gets old, because the built-in fears in us stay very much the same. 


Ratings

Rating: ★★★★★

Scare factor: ★★★★★

Originality factor: ★★★★★

Entertainment factor: ★★★★★


Cast and crew

Paranormal Activity is directed and written by Oren Peli. It stars Katie Featherston (Katie) and Micah Sloat (Micah).

Duration: 86 minutes. Cinematography: Oren Peli. Edited by: Oren Peli. Produced by: Oren Peli, Jason Blum. Production company: Blumhouse Productions, Solana Films. Distributed by: Paramount Pictures.


Check the trailer below


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