Paranormal Activity: Time-release horror, a review in two parts

Please don’t let this film encourage you to make amateur films about your life with your girlfriend and her demon. Or, if you do, try to make sure the ending doesn’t blow.

Here’s the review I wrote on Sunday evening:

Who’d have thought fifty years ago that there would be a day when a major film studio uses the bargain basement price tag of a film as a marketing tool? As special effects technology improves and all those ghosts and explosions and zombies look more and more “real,” our ability to be shocked and impressed has changed dramatically.

But you knew that already. Remember when Jurassic Park hit the theaters and everyone went nuts? I remember hungrily reading a Newsweek article about computer animation, astounded that those lifelike beasts were simply drawn on a computer. For weeks afterwards, I imagined waking up to a giant T. rex eyeball at my window. Only 16 short years later, we sit through the trailer for 2012, (whose tagline should be “This can’t possibly end well,”) and don’t bat an eyelash as we are shown real-as-hell images of our entire world literally falling apart. The other day, in fact, I’m pretty sure we spent our time during that trailer teaching our friends how to eat popcorn without using their hands.

Now that realistic looks false, we gotta move forwards by moving backwards, so the way to make things seem hyper-real is to make it look awful. Even as early as 1999, The Blair Witch Project scared the crap out of me and everyone else I knew. One of the reasons horror movies are satisfying is that you’re able to remove yourself (hopefully) and appreciate your snug surroundings for what they are, i.e. cheerful, pleasant, and above all, not haunted. During Blair Witch, you’re sitting there thinking, “I, too, have held a camcorder, and I, too, have gone camping, and I, too, will almost certainly meet a spooky and gruesome end the next time I set foot out of my house.”

Instead of a camera in the woods, Paranormal Activity sets up shop in the average comfort of average couple Katie and Micah’s average home. Katie’s been relatively cheerfully dealing with some sort of demon in her life since she was eight years old. Lately, though, the bumps in the night have been getting a little more distressing, so Micah decides to bring in a camera and a microphone to try to catch evidence. His reasons aren’t entirely clear — he’s either trying to prove her wrong or prove her right, and at some point, as evidence does begin to pile up, he seems to think that the more he films, the faster a solution will present itself.*

Katie has the opposite view. Supported by the recommendations of a psychic, she feels keenly that the entity whose noise-making shenanigans disturb their sleep most nights will only ramp up its efforts if they continue to try to toy with it. Considering what sorts of things they view on their own tapes in the morning (and I’m not going to elaborate – go see it for yourself), they are surprisingly cavalier about the fact that something supernatural and clearly malevolent is dogging Katie’s steps. If Blair Witch tapped into our fear and guilt of wandering through the older, wilder parts of nature, Paranormal Activity attempts to top that by bringing evil into our own home.

And that’s where the truly tense moments in this film lie — the quiet hours in the middle of the night, hours in which we all have looked down that dark hallway between our bedroom and our bathroom and thought, “Do I really have to go that badly?” That snug sense of satisfaction other horror movies allow us evaporates as we realize that we are going home to that exact same house to have those same relationship arguments. As the tension builds with the couple’s obvious terror night after night, we brace ourselves against the ending of all endings.

But luckily for me and my sleep patterns, it’s the ending that doesn’t come. Anti-climactic and disappointing, the film’s ending wasn’t even worth closing my eyes over (although I did admit I missed a little of it, squeezing my eyes shut and substituting a mental image of a cartoon demon strutting into the bedroom and doing a little dance — a defense mechanism that I highly recommend). For I’m the sort of person that firmly and boringly believes in nothing. My only personal demon limits itself to putting on pinstripes and creaming the Phillies, yet I continue to be infuriated by the toll that horror movies take on my nerves. This movie, despite its claims of unprecedented fearmongering, failed to scare me. Sure, I was startled a little and generally creeped out, but the underwhelming resolution couldn’t hack it for me. After my viewing, and this will mean something if you’ve seen the movie, I unabashedly charged up a ladder into our tiny attic to peer around at our hundred-year-old roof beams with their creepy old nails looking for a leak. I didn’t even flinch when, alerted by my husband’s screams, I ran into the hallway to see his legs dangling and flailing from said attic as if a demon were dragging him upwards. Nice try, buster, but I’m still pretty sure those thumps in our hallway at night are our cats.’

…And here is the review I wrote in my head this morning at 4:30am:


*This was pretty scary, actually. An asshole boyfriend who ignores your frantic pleas and instead invites the scariest thing you can imagine to torture you further.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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