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After a young, middle class couple moves into a suburban 'starter' tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.
It seems like it's been decades now since I first heard about Paranormal Activity. I distinctly remember seeing it mentioned on one of the horror news sites that I frequent, and I thought that the film sounded like it had some serious potential. A short time later, said site mentioned that it would be playing at such-and-such festival in the near future, and they posted a trailer to promote that appearance. I watched the trailer, and right then and there, I knew that I had to see this movie. Of course, we all know what happened next: Paramount swooped in and snatched up the rights, and the film has sat on the shelves for something like thirty years while the studio bigwigs dished out countless remakes and rehashes. I finally got a chance to see it earlier this evening, and though it's a shame that they let that early hype die off while they figured out what to do with the movie, I can definitely say that the wait was worth it.
Review by Chad
Added: October 23, 2009
As for the storyline, there's not much to say that you probably haven't already heard. We meet up with Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), a loving couple who are experiencing some paranormal activity in their home. Micah decides to purchase a high-end camera and some microphones in an attempt to document what is happening in their house while they sleep, and this film is a condensed version of three weeks worth of their amateur footage. As the weeks pass by, the paranormal activity goes from "bumps and whispers in the night" to... well, it gets really fucking scary.
Full disclosure: I downloaded a screener copy of this movie. Why? Well, first of all, it's not going to be playing anywhere close to where I live, and then there's that whole thing about the ending. I'm not going to spoil it here, but let's put it like this: the filmmakers originally came up with a great idea for the ending to their film, the powers that be saw it and suggested some changes, and the ending was changed from "a disturbing and memorable finale" to "another serving of Hollywood bullshit that relies on nothing more than cheap scares." I don't generally advocate piracy because even if a movie is complete and utter garbage, well... you were interested enough to download it, so the filmmakers and studios deserve a bit of compensation for that. However, I strongly advise you to seek out a torrent link and skip the trip to the theaters in this case. The theatrical ending is just that bad, and it's akin to perfectly marinating a steak, taking it out of the oven at just the right moment, adorning it with expertly-fried onions and your preferred sauces, and then serving it up with a steaming side of bullshit.
Let's get something else out of the way while we're at it. Did you like The Blair Witch Project? I don't mean the way that it was filmed in shaky-cam, as even though this film is similar in that regard, it doesn't go to the extremes that Blair Witch did: you can tell that the actor was holding the camera and it does move around a fair amount, but it won't give you motion sickness. No, what I'm asking is this: did you enjoy the way that the story unfolded in The Blair Witch Project, the way that what you didn't see was much more terrifying than the few things that you did see? Did you enjoy using your imagination and drawing your own conclusions rather than seeing every plot point neatly tied up with a big red bow? If you answered positively, then yes, you will love this film. However, if you count yourself as part of the unwashed minority who believed that film to be "overrated" and "like, sooooo not scary!11!!!!", then save yourself the cash or the bandwidth: you will hate this movie.
The rest of us will find that Paranormal Activity is one of the scariest films in recent years. As I was watching this in a darkened room with all outside distractions out of the way, I found the tension levels steadily rising to the point where I could literally feel it in the very fabric of my being. As a result, on the odd occasion when a "jump" scare reared its head, it got me. Folks, that doesn't happen often, as I consider myself to be damned near desensitized to that sort of thing... but the atmosphere that this film produces makes it trivial for the filmmakers to fuck with you. With that said, the fear that this film puts into the viewer is not limited to a few scenes that will make you squirm around in your seat a bit: no, this is the kind of film that will stick with you, and you'll remember it when you're in bed at night and hear the house settling, the random noises outside, and all of the other sounds that one generally tunes out when trying to fall asleep.
I particularly enjoyed the cinéma vérité approach to telling this story, as even though it is getting a bit played out in this day and age, I thought that it perfectly complimented this particular story; in fact, I don't think it would have worked as well had it was presented as a "normal" film. Both of the leads seemed perfectly natural in their roles, and by natural, I mean that they didn't seem like they were acting at all: they seemed like two average Americans who were responding in natural ways to unnatural events. The lack of any type of musical score and the absence of shoddy CGI effects (remember, the theatrical ending is a nice side of mashed bullshit) completely sealed the deal with me.
Does Paranormal Activity live up to the hype? Going back to my Blair Witch comparison, I strongly believe that it does if you enjoy that style of horror. If you're a fan of atmosphere and slow-building tension, you will more than likely agree with me when I say that this is a perfect film. If, on the other hand, you require a body count and a wisecracking serial killer to be included in your horror presentations, then go ahead and skip this one. Personally, I'm going with a 10/10 and a strong "movie of the year" consideration, but for the final time, that applies only to the non-theatrical ending. If you insist on seeing it in theaters or if the inevitable DVD release lacks that ending, drop that score down to a 6/10.
- added 10/24/2009, 07:03 PM
Yeah, no. This movie was terrible. It was one of
those shitty TV "Ghost Hunter" shows
turned into a movie. Not original, not scary, not
worth watching. I checked the remaining time every
5-10 minutes I was so bored. And as far as the
theatrical ending vs the screener ending, they
were both trash. The only good part was the girl's
set. Too bad she was a fatty.
- added 10/24/2009, 07:05 PM
If, on the other hand, you require a body count
and a wisecracking serial killer to be included in
your horror presentations, then go ahead and skip
Should have listened to me
- added 10/24/2009, 08:09 PM
I'm going to agree with Tristan on this one. It
wasn't scary at all, I even got up a few times to
talk to some people and told my wife and sister to
grab me if something interesting happened. There
was nothing scary about it and orignal at all.
- added 10/27/2009, 03:17 PM
I really enjoyed this movie. It is slow going at
first, but after around 45 min, it starts getting
pretty good. Creepy film. I love anything horror.
- added 11/09/2009, 01:31 AM
I really dug this, but I think it would lose a
lot of its effect on repeat viewings, so I'd have
to disagree with calling it perfect.
Also, in no way was this girl a fatty.
- added 11/09/2009, 05:52 PM
In no way a fatty? I'm out of shape, but I'm
proud to say I don't have a big fat mess hanging
off my cheeks and neck. This girl had a killer
set, but she was a fatty. She was on O&A a few
weeks ago. I saw video of that. Guess what. She's
still a fatty.
- added 11/18/2009, 11:22 AM
I wasn't expecting to enjoy this film in the
slightest but was surprised at how much I actually
did. I thought the execution was handled very
well, the performances were solid and the pacing
was just how it needed to be. Some of the scares
really worked. I did, however, think the
theatrical ending was ridiculous and we can all
blame Steven Spielberg for that one (his one fuck
up). Otherwise, a terrific little horror film.
- added 01/30/2010, 08:55 AM
I liked it. Wasn't amazing or anything, but it
did creep me out. I would give it a 7/10. Also,
I'm not sure what ending I watched, I also
downloaded a version, but I think it was a DVD
Rip. *SPOILERS* The ending I saw had Katie get up
from bed and stand in front of Micah for an hour I
believe, then she heads downstairs and then
screams out to Micah. Micah then runs downstairs
and we hear a struggle. Then we hear footsteps and
he flies towards the camera. Katie then comes in
with blood, kneels over the body in a weird
demon-like stance, then attacks the camera. *END
SPOILER* I'm guessing thats the theatrical ending?
Because that zooming into the camera was pretty
lame. I also saw an ending online where *MORE
SPOILERS* Katie cuts here throat *END SPOILERS*
That was also lame. Which is the good ending?
- added 01/30/2010, 12:30 PM
The first one is the theatrical, the second one
was a scrapped ending found in the DVD extras.
You're 0 for 2 home skillet.
- added 03/10/2010, 10:17 PM
Yet another movie hyped to infamy. The bedroom
scenes were neat and a little creepy, but nowhere
near as good as it was hyped. The daytime dribble
put me to sleep twice.
bullshit that was the marketing, and you have a
movie that was put together like shit. While it
was never advertised as a documentary (like Blair
Witch), it was shot as a documentary. Which means
they shouldn't have had different angles for the
same continuous conversation. Which they did for
just about every scene. More importantly, what
camera can record for hours while you sleep?
The theatrical ending was far superior to
the crappy alternative one.
- added 03/10/2010, 10:19 PM
"More importantly, what camera can record
for hours while you sleep?" Pretty much any
digital camera in that price range.
- added 03/10/2010, 11:04 PM
That wasn't hooked up to his computer. His
computer was downstairs. He was recording to tape.
- added 03/10/2010, 11:25 PM
Ok, that would be a webcam. He had a digital
camera, meaning it records digital video to a hard
drive inside the camera, not to analog tape.
Second of all, and I don't know why I didn't think
of this first, you can buy a blank analog tape
with 12 hours of available footage in any dollar
- added 03/11/2010, 04:15 PM
This was shot with a Sony FX-1 which uses Digital
Tape (miniDV type). An hour and a half is tops on
Recording to hard drive is still
fairly new and pretty damn expensive.
- added 03/11/2010, 04:32 PM
That is a really minor thing to get nitpicky
about... I could gripe about the way that PC's are
used in movies, or the way that image enhancement
is done in CSI shows, or or or... but I don't,
because it's a minor thing.
said, I played around with my webcam a few years
back to record myself sleeping all night in a
silly little experiment- not to capture a ghost or
anything like that, just because I thought it
would be neat to watch in ultra fast-forward.
Recording at 320x240 (low quality), it took up
just over a gig of space for about eight hours of
footage. This was with a $10 webcam, mind you.
The end result was eight hours of footage in low
quality, but I did it with a ten dollar webcam and
my personal PC.
Hard drives are now
measured in terabytes, and when you consider that
1 terabyte = 1,000 gigs, well... I don't think
that recording eight hours of two people sleeping
in decent quality is out of the realm of
possibility. I don't know about cameras that you
can take "out in the field", but setting
up something like this in your home is damned sure
- added 03/11/2010, 05:02 PM
I'll concede the Sony FX-1 point (but Chad covers
what I think about that) but digital photography
is certainly not new or expensive. Maybe
"hard drive" was the wrong word to use,
but let's keep the focus on the movie and not on
- added 03/11/2010, 06:41 PM
Here's the thing: It wasn't the false nature of
the camera that ruined the movie for me. The movie
ruined the movie for me. I didn't find it scary. I
thought the bedroom scenes were well done. But,
they didn't make the movie enjoyable. The hype
certainly was overblown. The funny thing is, the
film makers didn't see any of the millions this
movie made, because they sold the rights outright.
But, this was shot as a documentary.
Keeping that in mind it fails on many levels (as
did Blair Witch). They got too cute with
themselves in editing, or the actors couldn't
remember their lines. They just used too many
different angles to shoot one person saying one
As for digital photography,
that's cheap. But, digital camcorders like the RED
CAMERA that being used all over Hollywood right
now, records to Hard Drive space, not tape, and
they start at about $40,000. They would have
needed something like this to record all night
Also, you two just mentioned
what they could have done to make it not just
believable, but correct. A cheesy webcam camera.
But, they didn't.
There are times when
you suspend disbelief and times when you
shouldn't. For me, this was a time that you
shouldn't. Maybe if I really enjoyed this flick I
could have. But, I didn't.