By Adam Roche
Dear Oren Peli, because of you, I spent Saturday night on the couch. My sister-in-law, fearing for her life after having watched your movie ‘Paranormal Activity’, not only chose to invite herself into my house for refuge, but to take my place in the marital bed with her sister. Whilst this did mean that I didn’t have to withstand my wife’s snoring, it did mean that I was awoken by Cartoonito at a horrifically early hour instead of sleeping until eleven.
As much as I hate to admit it, this wasn’t the only reason I was annoyed. It’s been a while since I lost sleep after having watched a horror movie. Not that reluctant exhilaration after joining the pursuit of a serial killer, or the insomnia rent by the excesses of the torture porn genre. No, whilst I lay there in the dark of my very own living room, I realized that what was keeping me awake was a creeping dread that hadn’t been there before.
‘Paranormal Activity’ begins by introducing it’s two main characters, Micah and Katie, who after having experienced strange phenomena in their home decide to attempt to document the occurrences with video cameras. Katie also consults a psychic, to whom she confesses that paranormal activity has taken place in her life before, possibly even contributing to certain tragedies in her past. The psychic believes that what plagues their home is not a ghost, but a demon, and advises them to contact a demonologist. Micah is reluctant, and manages to convince Katie that simply documenting the evidence will be enough. However, it soon becomes apparent that the sounds in the shadows may be the portent of something far more terrible.
Of course, many people will compare ‘Paranormal Activity’ to 1999’s ‘The Blair Witch Project’. People couldn’t be more wrong. This is the film that TBWP should have been. One of the most infuriating problems with TBWP was its unlikeable main character, its remote setting (which thereby allowed the audience the luxury of alienation), and its character’s stupidity. This may be a controversial thing to point out, but the fact that Heather never puts the camera down even when she is running for her life does seem a little detached from reality, even though it would have left us in the dark.
‘Paranormal Activity’, on the other hand is completely plausible. Micah, who is camera happy to an extent, doesn’t gawp down the viewfinder when he’s having an intimate conversation with Katie, doesn’t film his snotty nose when he cries. He’s chided by Katie when he brings the camera into their arguments. He accidentally leaves it filming while they leave the house to argue (inadvertently leading to the capture of shocking evidence). He uses the camera’s powerful spotlight to look around the pitch black attic. In short, the camera never feels forced, adding to the already realistic atmosphere in the house by the completely naturalistic, and utterly believable relationship between Micah and Katie. These characters aren’t ciphers placed in a film to scream and direct the action. Micah and Katie (their real names by the way) act and joke with each other in such a comfortable way that it’s much harder to imagine them as not real.
And what of the scares? They’re there, and they’re truly shocking. They’re the kind of scares that inspire shrieking, and we’re not talking about implied evil either. This is a film that delivers on its promises. You’ll see what they see, hear what they hear, and later… well, to say any more would be spoiling the delicious surprises that await you. To all those people who derided ‘The Blair Witch Project’ as not scary because ‘nothing happens’, I direct you to this film. In short, stuff happens.
The film’s greatest strength though, lies in its setting. This isn’t a forest in the cold end of nowhere, or a lake smothered in a blanket of ghastly fog. It isn’t even some run down turn-of-the-century mansion at the end of the street. This is a contemporary house with a big television and suburban furnishings. It’s my house and your house. These people aren’t goth cliches, busty prom queens or cocky football jocks. They’re the people you know, the people you see and talk to every day. They don’t react to this problem with a crucifix and a light show. They do the best they can, they weep when they’re frightened, they wake in the middle of the night in a blind sweat and panic.
It’s these things that ground this remarkable movie in reality, and in turn make this film so much more terrifying. Because when you turn the light off at night, when the world around you is silent and sleeping and it’s just you and the darkness, that’s when you’ll realize that you’re not really that safe at all.
Follow Electro Candy on Twitter here
Follow Adam Roche on Twitter here