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.

  • error

    Report an error

Susan Howson

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

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Yo, that demon just wants to go nightswimming with Katie. That’s where it was dragging her. DID YOU NOTICE THAT SHE DIDN’T GET IN THE POOL? THAT’S BECAUSE SHE CAN’T SWIM & THE DEMON JUST WANTS TO GO SWIMMING. Those footprints were actually webbed.

  2. Oh I thought it wanted to sit romantically next to her on the swing and talk about its hopes and plans for the future?

  3. The message on the ouija board was “MICAH–BUY STOCK IN PANERA’S.”

  4. Amanda on said:

    Um, I am not kidding you: literally as soon as I finished reading your review I discovered two birds flapping around INSIDE our screened-in porch. HOW DID THEY GET THERE, SUSAN?!


  5. What if the “demon” turned out to be a “daemon”? OMG CUTE LITTLE PINE MARTEN SCAMPERING AROUND!

  6. and what if by “daemon” you actually meant “Damon”? Jason Bourne is the new Freddy Kruger.

  7. Justin on said:

    and what if by “Matt Damon” you actually meant “Johnny Damon.” The Yankees are the true nightmare!


  9. And what if by “Johnny Damon” you meant “Johnny Depp?” I am going home right now to make certain there is/isn’t a Johnny Depp in my attic!

  10. Ross wins this game. Also, I am moving into his house.

  11. hhhhhhhhhhheweeeeeeelllllllloooooo

  12. that movie was straight up freaky..
    isnt that a true story??

  13. Nope! The director made it to deal with his own fear of ghosts. He decided to go the demon route because it seemed scarier.

  14. I saw this last night and, while the voyeur in me enjoyed the filming concept and there were definitely some moments that creeped me out, I wasn’t terribly impressed. The ending left me thinking, “Really? Is that all there is?”.

    That being said, I woke up last night to the sound of my own screams with visions of a malevolent spirit stalking me in my own bedroom. I haven’t had nightmares after watching a horror flick since I was a kid. Guess this movie did have an effect on me. Creepy.

  15. Yeah! Yeah! Time release!

    Word of encouragement – it has significantly decreased for me in the last couple of days!

  16. Scared Sleepless on said:

    So this Friday will be a month after seeing the movie. Still cannot sleep without my TV on. Genius. Not to mention, the characters were on Jay Leno last night, and watching that renewed my fears. I don’t understand how people CANNOT think this film is scary? The devil is real, I just hope he never pays me a visit.

  17. Ok chicks and dudes the movie was a push over till the last scene, that was a little scary, but in the begining of the movie it says “the sacramento police police department and dedication to the family of blah blah” So the thing that got to me was… Is any of this based on truth? Or was it just made up to be in such a disorganized fashon to try to scare me???

  18. I solemnly swear to you that none of this is based on truth. I mean if you believe in demons, sure, I guess it’s sort of based on truth in that you might think that this whole situation is a possibility, in which case I don’t know how you sleep at night anyway, movie or no.

  19. katy on said:

    i know the movie is not real, but are katie and micah really a couple

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

Or report an error instead