A scary haunted house movie! A scary haunted house movie! And it’s not even Poltergeist!
Yes, Paranormal Activity managed to do something that almost no other haunted house movie in the past 25 years has managed to do: actually be scary (1408 got a few jumps out of me, though nowhere near as effective as this). Like Blair Witch, it’s presented entirely through self-shot footage (or from a fixed tripod in their bedroom), and ramps up from simple noises to truly freaky ‘violent’ acts. The increasingly terrifying nature of the scares is what really makes the film work – if you just watched the finale by itself, you’d be pretty perplexed as to why anyone was scared by it (just like Mike standing in a corner isn’t really that interesting unless you’ve been totally sucked into the previous 80 minutes).
Also, as the film is entirely digital video that looks no better/worse than what any average Joe can shoot, the scares are fully believable. There’s a subconscious acceptance that what you are seeing is real when it’s digital video (it’s not all glossed up and “cinematic”), which is what made those Ratchet and Clank commercials work so great. So when added to the perfectly paced ramping of scares, it proves incredibly frightening.
The acting is also good, something that posed a problem with a few characters in Diary of the Dead. There’s really only two people in the film, and unlike Heather in Blair Witch, they never get too shrill or just plain unlikable, even as they begin to bicker with one another. I totally believe them as a couple, and they sell their fear quite well too. And the film does a good job of making their actions with the camera logical for the most part (100% admiration for how the finale is “filmed”).
The hilarious thing about the whole presentation was that it was preceded by 10 minutes of some new A&E show called Paranormal State, which deals with a “real” paranormal research team. The footage was cheesy and laughable, and without any sort of suspense. So yes, the “real show” wasn’t as believable as the movie that we knew damn well was fake. Then the guys who host/produce the show came out after the movie and more or less dismissed the film while tooting their own horn. Wisely, I (and many others) just left them to suck their own cocks while I talked to the filmmaker/cast of Paranormal Activity in the lobby. Which is the great thing about Screamfest, and any independent film festival in general; you can often just chat up with the filmmaker after the film and not be bothered by 40 other people in the process. Not to mention laugh at the actors in stupid basic cable shows for talking about things like “Dead time”.
Not sure if there’s a release date for this one (it doesn’t even have an IMDb page!) but hopefully it will play in theaters (though I suspect it will play just as well at home). Take it from me, dismisser of nearly every film of its kind I have ever seen – this one DOES work as an actual ‘scary’ movie.
Read more at BC’s Horror-Movie-a-Day