- Written and directed by Oren Peli
- Starring: Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat
- Classification: 14A
An experience in minimalist suspense, Paranormal Activity is a clever little horror film, aimed at the reality television and YouTube generation. Made on a $15,000 (U.S.) budget and ingeniously marketed by Paramount, which has been using select midnight screenings and the Web to build an audience. Like The Blair Witch Project, it's a faux documentary (the actors use their real names), set in a suburban San Diego house.
The opening scene has Micah, a cocky young day-trader with a fetish for technology, trying out his new video camera to greet his college-student girlfriend, Katie, as she comes home from class. There have been strange noises in the house, and Katie has a history of supernatural problems. Micah says he can use the camera to document paranormal activities, but he also drops several hints he's really interested in ogling Katie through his viewfinder. He sets up a time-coded camera in the bedroom, overlooking the bed, bedroom door and hallway.
The stationary night camera is director Oren Peli's most inspired idea, a recurring half-dark image with a time-code in one corner which speeds through the night and then slows down just before something happens. When horror films blow their budgets on CGI melting faces and rumbling devil voices, there's something elegant about a film that depends on the kinds of editing tricks anyone could do at home: The sounds of footsteps on stairs, doors that mysteriously close and swing open, a shadow on a wall, sheets moved back by an invisible hand.
By contrast, the days are kind of banal, as the couple flirt and squabble and seek help from a middle-aged psychic (Mark Fredrichs). After a quick interview and house check, he explains this looks like a demon's work and requires a different expertise than his. Also, he feels the demon is tied to Katie, not the real estate, so there's just no point trying to run away.
Though Paranormal Activity is mostly a technical exercise in playing with the audience's anticipation, it's not devoid of metaphor. Micah is arrogant, first in his skepticism and, later, in his macho determination to go mano-a-diablo with Katie's tormentor. When the film schools and gender studies programs get hold of this one, and they will, they'll undoubtedly note how the male-wielded camera is the instigator of female demonic forces.
The film's ending, which has been changed from the Slamdance Film Festival, is a bit of a letdown: That dark shadow ahead looks suspiciously like the marketing campaign for Paranormal Activity 2.