Paranormal Activity [MOVIE REVIEW]

In "anticipation" for the supposed last installment in the 'Paranormal Activity' franchise 'Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension' (ridiculous title), I decided to painstakingly look back at the movie that started it all. Now I was never on the 'Paranormal Activity' boat but clearly there is a devoted audience for this. Just the fact that they made it to six films speaks language to just how popular this series became. So, lets find out the actual QUALITY of where they came from. This is my review of 'Paranormal Activity'.

So, this is not exactly the movie I was imagining myself re-watching in the month of horror... but I did. It is fascinating that this movie became the cultural phenomenon that it did. With an 83% rating on rottentomatoes, 68/100 on Metacritic and approval from several people I respect dearly (Roger Ebert and Steven Spielberg), clearly I must have missed something every single time I saw it. Now with the more recent installments ('Paranormal Activity 4' and 'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones') in the franchise it seems like more and more people are beginning to lean more towards my side - but there was a time when the majority liked these movies so I will - for one final time, try to understand what all the fuss was about. What I will say though before I get into it is that I do give the film makers credit for opting to go with simplicity to generate fear instead of going all out like a lot of horror movies do now. I will also applaud and congratulate them for being able to make a movie with such a small budget and then have it become such a global phenomenon.

Right of the bat I have to talk about the cinematography... or well, whatever you call it for found footage movies. One reason why many found footage movies utterly fail ('Paranormal Activity 4' REALLY failed in this regard) is because nobody would ever hold the camera like they do in those films and if they do - it still makes for a rather terrible film experience. In 'Paranormal Activity' the character is actually holding it like a real person would hold a film camera. In terms of "buying that it is real" - this movie gets a hell of a lot closer than many others in the subgenre. However that may sadly be where the positives about the movie ends...

The main problem with this whole ordeal reveals itself immediately in the first night. The point of the first night is to get the audience on the edge of their seat waiting for something to happen - but everything that came before that failed to establish any sort of tension or reasons for the audience to be scared for what is to come. If they had established tension that things may be wrong and show us examples of it - then the first night (where nothing happens by the way) may actually get us on the edge of our seats. As it is though, the first night is utterly pointless. We then devote the whole next day to just developing their relationship (which is fine, that is character development). The problem is that NO time is developed to actually establishing that something scary may be occurring in the house by showing it. We are being told that they are filming everything because strange things have happened and the two even get a psychic to show up and examine the house - but all he seems to care about is the relationship of Micah and Katie (our two leads). When they eventually do get to the spooky things that have happened, again they only TALK about it. We do not see any of it. While I will not go through the movie scene by scene. I have to say that then on the second night - all we see is a door moving while we hear some noises in the background. So the movie did not establish any tension - and then try to scare us by having a door lightly move. THAT DOES NOT WORK.

It is ironic that while the movie pretty much succeeds in one aspect many horror movies fail - the characters. But then it also fails spectacularly at being a horror movie because they spend way too much time on developing the characters and then very little on the actual tension. Ultimately there is nothing interesting going on (because honestly, I doubt anyone watched this movie for the characters). While the movie does not fail completely in delivering scares - whenever it actually does it completely sabotages the tension they built up through those scenes by following it up with the characters talking. In fact one of the better scares in the whole movie is the Ouija board that starts moving by itself and then lits itself on fire. If they had followed it up with a night scene I would have been on the edge of my seat because the tension would be high. Instead they had Katie and Micah arguing for five minutes and when they finally DO go to bed - they cut straight to the next morning.

Overall, 'Paranormal Activity' fails in many of the most basic horror principles but also succeeds in others. The problem still remains though that ultimately the whole thing is very boring. While I would like to give the movie more points for what it does right - it still remains so boring that I cannot give it that much credit. I gave the movie one final chance, and it did not get any better. It is way too dull, the characters are either boring or extremely unlikeable and there is barely any tension throughout the whole thing.


- Lucas


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