1 hour, 26 minutes
Have you ever had a mouse in your house? The squeaking, scratching or scurrying about can be heard late at night when your home is dark and silent. Once you recognize those tell-tale signs, there are two plans of action: call a professional exterminator or sack up to do the job yourself.
Basically, that's what's happening in Paranormal Activity, except the mouse is a supernatural creature who has been haunting Katie (Katie Featherston) since she was eight. Now, she's a college student living with her boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat), who purchased a swanky camera to verify his girlfriend's claims. Once things start going bump, Katie calls in a psychic, Dr. Fredrichs (Mark Fredrichs), who instructs the couple on their options. Micah, however, is determined to run his own house and stamp out the paranormal pest himself.
Buzz surrounding Paranormal Activity has gone nuclear over the past few weeks. By the time I bought my ticket, the expectation that it was going to be the most frightening, panic-inducing thrill ride I'd ever experienced was hard to tamp down. Luckily, the film lives up to the hype. Fledgling writer-director Oren Peli removes all the flash and spectacle and brought his horror story back to the creepy basics. Each night when the couple set up their camera and went to bed, I couldn't help but anxiously await the creaks and whispers that echoed through the house.
During the waking hours, Katie retells memories of the shadowy presence that haunts her and Micah educates himself in the occult. His need to fight versus her desire for flight builds excellent tension as the events intensify with each passing night.
My eyes were glued to the screen, expecting the situation to erupt at any moment, until I thought I was going to spew. For the first time in my movie-watching life, the shaky-cam caused a wave of nausea. The sensation was never intense enough to send me running from the theater, but the constant camera swaying made the last half hour harder to enjoy.
They say the lack of a focal point in shaky-cam filming causes the nausea. I think the combination of Micah's unsteady hand and Katie's bouncing bosom made me see-sick. Now that I think of it, footage of some pre-paranormal fornication would have been a plus. Sadly, Paranormal Activity is severely deficient in the gratuitous gore and nudity you might expect.
The Money Shot
Peli knocked it out of the park with his first attempt. If it wasn't been for the camera-induced queasiness, I'd be giving Paranormal Activity a rave review. Peli builds a winning horror story using classic bump-in-the-night techniques in lieu of splattering the screen with a coat of fresh blood. Though the current ending varies from the original (most likely changed in preparation of inferior sequels), neither that, nor the hype, should frighten you away from experiencing Paranormal Activity.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009