Monday, October 12, 2009

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paranormal Activity (2007) is almost interesting. Unfortunately, the only thing that is interesting about it is its style of release. Paranormal Activity was premiered at the 2007 Screamfest Horror Film Festival, but has not yet been given a wide release. (Paranormal Activity hits theaters nationwide on October 16). On the weekend of September 25, The film was released in thirteen cities in the United States, generating a massive amount of word-of-mouth buzz. The cities in which the film was released was determined by voting on, something that has never been done before with a movie. Many of these screenings have sold out; the film has grossed an estimated $8.2 million.

If you have heard anything about the film, you probably think it will be the scariest thing you have ever seen. Stories of people running out of the theater crying come by the dozen. The most hardcore people you know admit to not being able to sleep after attending one of the midnight screenings. Even Steven Spielberg is convinced the film is haunted. Immediately after he watched a DVD screener of the movie, Spielberg found the door to his bedroom mysteriously locked from the inside. He allegedly returned the film to the studio in a garbage bag claiming the DVD was cursed.


The film itself, however, is not as frightening as Spielberg and everyone else will have you believe. Sure, it has a few genuinely creepy moments. And sure, it isn’t exactly a formulaic horror film. However, it does not transcend the limits of the now-stale genre as is often said. Paranormal Activity is an impressive debut effort from Oren Peli considering the extremely low budget (estimated at $11,000) and seven day shooting schedule. It would seem as if he knows a little bit about what he is doing. He establishes the meticulously designed staircase as a constant source of fear throughout the film. Not only is the ominous sound of some unknown being plodding up the stairs frightening, but the way Peli shoots through the three banisters adds a subtle sense of dread. Most of the film is shot from a tripod pointed at the main couple’s bed. The stationary, security-camera style footage is brilliantly creepy. There is not a central focal point for the viewer to look at. Should you watch the actors lying in bed or concentrate on the open doorway? What was that shadow in the corner? Although these scenes are mostly static, the viewer is kept in suffocating suspense.

The film is suspenseful, but scary, it is not. As A. O. Scott says,
“There is no lingering dread. You are not likely to be troubled by the significance of this ghost story or tantalized by its mysteries. It’s more like a trip to the local haunted house, where even the fake blood and the tape-loop of howling wind you have encountered 100 times before can momentarily freak you out.”
It seems as though Paranormal Activity’s near-notorious degree of scariness is due to audiences so badly desiring to be frightened out of their minds. Unfortunately, after the hype of Paranormal Activity dies down, it will become clear that the film is not “the scariest movie of the decade” as so many hope and exclaim. It is doubtful that you will have any real trouble going to sleep after watching it. That is, of course, unless your house is haunted.

Grade: C+

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