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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, 2009
Movie Review

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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY,   MOVIE POSTERPARANORMAL ACTIVITY, 2009
Movie Reviews

Directed by Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, Randy McDowell, Ashley Palmer, Tim Piper
Review by Andrew Kosarko


SYNOPSIS:

A haunted house makes no secret of the fact it is not pleased with its new tenants in this independent tale of supernatural horror. Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are a twentysomething couple who've just moved into a new home in San Diego, California. Katie has an interest in the paranormal and believes that malevolent spirits have been following her since childhood, though Micah is not so easily convinced. However, after several nights of loud noises and strange happenings, Micah starts to agree with Katie that some sort of ghost may have followed them to the new home. After a paranormal researcher tells the couple he can't help them, Micah decides to take control of the situation and sets up a battery of video cameras so that if a spirit manifests itself, he can capture its behavior on tape. Once the surveillance cameras are in place, Katie and Micah bring in a Ouija board in an effort to talk to the spirits, a move that deeply offends the ghosts.

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REVIEW:

Iíll start off with this for those who have not seen it: I was scared out of my mind a few times. This is a great film for the Halloween season. I recommend you see it in theaters or if you plan to wait for dvd Ė Iíd suggest a rental. The rest of my review will contain some spoilers but not the ending so reader beware.

The Story: Paranormal Activity is in fact a narrative film. I say that in order to let you know, that despite the lack of credits before and after the film, that it is in fact fake. Hell, the ending was changed on the suggestion of Steven Spielberg. It is however a film that knows what it is and knows what it wants. The greatest part of the story is the rising tension. Things escalate at a random and horrifying pace. Itís completely unknown territory and thatís why the structure builds tension over the film. But make no mistake, the film is simplistic that it never deviates from the main story. The characterization is realistic and grounded. I must say the second to last occurrence was the one that scared me the most. Watching a girl get dragged out of her bed and down the hall without an itch of CGI just freaked me out. As a film making theorist, Iíve always maintained that a horror movie is not just what youíre telling, but how you tell it. Paranormal Activity hits both nails on the head.

Acting: Once the ball is rolling youíre fine with the acting, but to start, if youíre not convinced the film is real by the lack of credits then the acting wonít help. Micah and Katieís weakest scenes are before the occurrences start on camera and during the day. However, when the scares are on, they react accordingly and realistically. Thatís where your hat must come off to them. I would rather them be believable then than vice versa.

Directing: Peli gets a standing ovation from me for this being his first feature film. Heís created an event film that delivers the scares. It shows talent to direct a horror film that while is fake, comes off so much more believable than Blair Witch. Itís innovative and will no doubt be imitated in Halloweens to come. But he will always have been the first to do it on digital and do it right. I only hope the inevitable sequels can deliver the same focus to the storytelling as this film does.

Cinematography: Hereís my big one. Horror films are all about cinematography. What you show, what you donít show, how long you show it, how well lit it is. If youíre a director of photography Ė this is your challengeable genre. You really have to know what youíre doing in this situation because the horror / thriller genre is the one that demands the most emotional experience of all genres, second maybe only to comedy. Itís always been my personal theory that long takes help draw a viewer into a horror scene and build tension. Apparently Peli has the same mentality, or otherwise inadvertently stumbled upon it via the mockumentry approach he took with the film. Either way, everything delivers in terms of cinematography. And I have to especially thank the film makers for having a somewhat steadier hand with the camera then the Blair Witch people. Sure it gets bobbled on occasion, but overall I never got motion sickness once.

Production Design: Itís very realistic and shoestring budget. The plus column of making a mockumentry.

Editing: Peli actually edits the film himself and so for that I have to give props. Not many film makers do that nowadays and it really is an essential aspect of it all. Another plus from indie film making is the control you have over the content you have created.

Score: There is a score and yes, it is noticeable. Several of the night scenes have a low rumbling sound before the ghosts make their appearance. Itís somewhat removing from the reality thatís been created but is most likely effective on a mainstream audience. But I was able to notice.

Special Effects: Up until the very last scene I was convinced this could have happened in the real world. The final moments of the film, which I will not reveal, are obviously CGI influenced. Given the subject matter that pre-dated it in the film, one would assume this was a studio note before the wide release. While it removed some of the impact of the finale for me, Iím glad it was only momentarily and that the rest of the film had some horrifying moments that were free of it.

In closing: This film is damn scary. Is it repeat scary? At the moment, my answer is only a guess because Iíve only seen it once. But now that I know what to expect, I donít believe the follow up viewings will be as scary. Some great horror films like Halloween (original), The Exorcist, Salemís Lot Ė etc, are scary every time you watch them. I donít feel like this film will get me again. So like I said, itís perfect to go see right now in theaters or for rent when itís on dvd. Youíll be in for a good scare if you go into it with a dark room in your house and someone to hold on to.

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