Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Paranormal Activity

Whenever a movie is sold as “the scariest movie ever” – which is how many of my friends described this one to me – you’re bound to be a little disappointed.  Paranormal Activity is scary, and though it didn’t meet expectations as one of the scariest movies of all time, it still holds its own as far as fun horror movies go.

The story revolves around a couple, Katie (Katie Featherstone) and Micah (Micah Sloat), who have just moved into a new house together.  As they begin to notice strange happenings and unexplained noises around the house – misplaced keys and the sound of whispering during the night – Micah decides to videotape everything as it happens.  After setting up a video camera at the foot of the bed, the couple observes the strange phenomena that occur night after night, allowing a sense of dread to build throughout.

The plot is simple enough, but the story is significantly enhanced by the documentary style of the movie.  A door slamming on its own or a bang from the kitchen would hardly be as terrifying in the context of another, more fantastical horror movie, but in Paranormal Activity the insistent normalcy of the characters and their life together makes the smallest things, like a rustling sheet, cause for alarm.  Katie and Micah are realistic and relatable, and it really does feel as if you are watching a friend’s home videos.

However, the plot is so simple that it drags at times.  During the first half hour very little happens.  A bang here or there, a creaky door moves half an inch or so without provocation… and that’s about it.  As the movie continues, the feeling of anticipation intensifies and the scares come about more readily, but I have to admit that much of my anxiety was based on the fact that I was told I should be scared out of my mind, and not because I was legitimately frightened.

There are also a few plot points and pieces of dialogue that don’t seem to fit.  For example, Micah refuses to contact a recommended “demonologist” for help when things start to get worse, reasoning, “This is my house, and you’re my girlfriend, and I’m going to take care of it!”  This macho declaration comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to fit the character in the least; instead, it comes off as a hackneyed plot device, which amounts to nothing about fifteen minutes later when Katie discovers that said “demonologist” happens to be out of the country for the next few days.  The movie also throws in some confused information found online about a woman who had similar experiences, but that too does little to serve the plot or clarify what’s going on with this couple.

It’s also difficult to drum up much sympathy for Katie, a character who, though realistic, is awfully annoying (and strangely a dead ringer for Jessie from “NYC Prep,” a comparison which does her character few favors if you have any idea what I’m talking about).  Prone to whining and screaming at her boyfriend, but never taking the slightest action to help herself – is there really only one demonologist in the whole wide world who can help her? – audiences might find themselves hard-pressed to truly care what happens to her.

Speaking as a hardened, desensitized horror buff, the ending is not terribly original or surprising.  Frankly, I thought the payoff to all that suspense would be greater.  But that’s not to say Paranormal Activity isn’t worth seeing – it just probably won’t hold up well to a second viewing.  Still, it’s a fun thriller that provides some genuine scares and a few accidental – but hearty – laughs.

Final Rating (out of 5):