Last week I had an opportunity to check out Paranormal Activity, first-time writer-director Oren Peli's much-talked-about tale of a young couple haunted by what they believe is a demon. The film has invited comparisons to The Blair Witch Project, and rightly so. Not only is it shot in a similar first-person, faux-amateur style, it is, upon first viewing in a theater, deeply disturbing without showing much of anything.
Our couple here is Katie and her boyfriend Micah. Katie claims she's been stalked her whole life by a supernatural presence; news which Micah greets with a mixture of skepticism and amusement. Mostly he's just eager to try out his new camera. So he sets it up in the couple's bedroom and begins recording the two as they sleep, in the hope of catching proof of…something.
Paranormal Activity takes a little while to get going, and when it does it's slightly hampered by Micah's character, who is, for lack of a better word, a bit of a douche bag. He repeatedly ignores Katie's pleas to stop filming and to stop irritating their uninvited guest. He also ignores the repeated advice of a demonologist Katie hires. And Micah's single-minded devotion to recording everything, while admittedly allowing the film to exist in the first place, does prove a little tedious. Katie's much more sympathetic, her wide eyes registering increasingly levels of fright and paranoia as the film progresses.
In the end, however, the real stars of Paranormal Activity aren't on camera at all. The film's very much in the tradition of the original Haunting and The Others in its use of sound, and in the way it focuses on the unseen, to inspire terror. I suspect the cut I saw could change before the film's commercial release (it's already been edited since its debut at Screamfest 2007), which may be for the better. Though smartly directed and possessing a steady build-up of frights, Paranormal Activity, in its present from, suffers just slightly from some eleventh-hour pacing problems. But such problems are pretty negligible when one considers the film's solid, bone-chilling frights, which make good use of the all-around best tool in any filmmaker's arsenal – the audience's own imagination.
Editor's Note: Check your local theater listings for midnight screenings. There's a fast, convenient way for you to demand that Paranormal Activity play in your area. Just go to www.eventful.com/ParanormalActivity and click on the city or location that you live in. If the demand is high enough, the film will play in your theatre. So where Paranormal Activity plays is up to you!