Editor’s Note: This review is ONLY for theaters, you MUST see it in a theater!
It has been two long years since I’ve seen Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, a micro-budget horror film that we were lucky enough to see before anyone else. Weeks after watching the film in my apartment, the Los Angeles Screamfest Horror Film Festival premiered the haunted house flick to 300 unsuspecting theatergoers. While I wasn’t blown away, everyone I talked to who saw it in that theater was. In fact, we ran BC’s review of the film after he convinced me the ONLY was to see it was in a packed house with a kickass audio system. I felt the film deserved as much, so I waited…and waited.
Two years later, I have finally seen Paranormal Activity proper. I cannot believe Paramount has yet to put this in theaters. What awaits you dear readers is a terrifying, chilling, remarkable independent film that can be described as an evil cross-breed of The Blair Witch Project and the horrifying (at least the first half) The Entity.
In Paranormal Activity, a young couple suspect that their house is haunted by a malevolent entity. They set up video surveillance to capture evidence of what happens at night as they sleep. Their surveillance and home videos have been edited into the feature film. To tell you more would ruin the experience.
Paranormal is structured almost identical to Blair Witch, which is the main reason that it works. In both films we have the ying and the yang, or the black and white if you will. First, we have the “daytime” scene, where there’s dialogue, discussions and most importantly a break from the madness. The second night falls, we enter the “nighttime” scene, where everything goes silent, and it’s only a matter of time before something happens. The audience is conditioned to relax during the daytime and react at night, a tactic that once realized, has endless possibilities. The second the duo hit the hay, a chill is guaranteed to go up each and every one of your spines as the entity’s “attack” grows stronger and stronger throughout the film. Peli begins small, but small means nothing in this world, and because he starts small, each and every encounter is effective and just as convincing. At no point does he start whipping out CG or ridiculous FX; everything that happens keeps you locked into the film and believing nearly every second of it.
The main flaws in Paranormal are those that are inescapable, so it’s kind of hard to reprimand such a brilliant little heart filled project. Peli makes a commendable effort to keep everything hyper-realistic. Constantly you’re asking yourself, “Why don’t they just LEAVE the house?” Peli comes up with 40 different reasons why they stay and really (and I mean really) tries to keep you in for the ride. Even though some of the reasons might be stretching it a bit, it was enough to keep it believable. Another flaw was the final, final scene of the film, which was too effin’ milk toast and Hollywood for my taste. For a movie that has you believing this could be real from frame one, it’s shocking to me that they reshot the ending to give the audience “one final scare”. While it doesn’t ruin the movie in the least, it does leave you scratching your head for a second and spewing “why?” to the person next to you.
While simplicity and conditioning are the building blocks of Paranormal, the use of sound is the glue that holds it all together. There is no score, just terrifying, horrible, loud noises that walk you through scenes. While you can brace for the hit all you want, when something happens, you’re bound to jump out of your seat at least once.
While this review really deserves to be about 15 pages long, it’s impossible to dissect this masterpiece of indie filmmaking without ruing it for you good folks. But I can promise you this, seen in a theater, Paranormal Activity is one of the scariest movies of all-time. It’s a movie you should trick your girlfriend into seeing, your younger brother, or maybe even your parents. YOU WILL BE AFFECTED as it’s hard to ignore the imprint it leaves on your psyche. You know it’s fake, and yet, you can’t shake it. Nightmares are guaranteed. Go put a fresh bulb in your hallway, you’re going to be keeping the lights on for quite some time.