Horror Movie Month: "Paranormal Activity" Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Horror Movie Month: "Paranormal Activity" Review

Rating: R (language)
Length: 86 minutes
Release Date: October 16, 2009
Directed by: Oren Peli
Genre: Horror, Mystery

"Paranormal Activity" is a 2009 supernatural horror filmed in the style of found footage, similar to the cinematography used in "The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield." The movie is filmed by its main characters through the use of hand-held cameras, webcams, and surveillance systems. The central story revolves around Katie Featherston,played by the actress of the same name. Katie lives with her boyfriend Micah, who has a brilliant career in thefinancial sector of Silicon Valley. The young couple enjoys their life in a large suburban homenear Katie's sister, Kristi. The drama of the film begins when Katie starts to notice small but unexplainable occurrences in the home.

As the film progresses, what began as a series of innocuous occurrences, such as misplaced car keys and broken glass, eventually escalates into mayhem. Katie desperately struggles to get Micah to take her concerns seriously, and as a way to ease her mind, Micah eventually gives in and installs cameras around the house. At first, it seems as though the events have calmed down and things are finally getting back to normal. However, after reviewing the footage, the couple is shocked to see physical evidence of the bizarre events happening to them. An unseen entity moves items and even possesses Katie, causing such disturbance that they decide to consult a medium. Only time will tell if the strange events are the result of a ghostly haunting or something far more sinister.

"Paranormal Activity" is widely regarded as one of the most puzzling and chilling horror films in recent years. In fact, upon the film's release, many people were convinced the events of the movie were based on a true story. The film was accompanied by a massively successful viral campaign that included using previously unknown actors to eliminate any possibility of proving the film was fictional. While audiences now know the film was in fact a work of fiction, that knowledge has done nothing to hamper its success. "Paranormal Activity" has launched an entire movie franchise with numerous sequels and spinoff films in the works. However, the original film remains a fan favorite for good reason.

The acting in "Paranormal Activity" is some of the most compelling in the horror movie genre. The use of unknown actors makes it even easier for the viewer to become immersed in the events of the film. The found-footage style adds plenty of suspense, making jump scares all the more potent. Katie Featherston delivers her role with all the charm and nuance of the girl next door, making her performance both believable and compelling. Micah is believable as a skeptic and serves as a foil throughout the film as his doubts spark tension in his relationship with Katie.

What really makes "Paranormal Activity" stand out is its brilliant use of found-footage cinematography. The fact the audience is limited by what the characters can see when using their hand-held cameras keeps viewers guessing about what might be coming around each corner. The film frequently switches between security cameras located around the house and Katie's hand-held camera, adding plenty of variety and keeping things fresh. Although the movie seems to start out slow, that time is used efficiently to establish the relationships between its main characters, rendering the impending chaos all the more terrifying.

Unlike many horror movies, "Paranormal Activity" retains its fear factor through the use of subtlety and implied horror. Rather than showing its monster up-front, Katie and Micah must contend with an unseen force. The entity is no less frightening due to its invisibility. In fact, the occasional clues as to what the entity looks like serve to create a much more suspenseful and disturbing buildup in the end.

For horror fans tired of clich├ęd gimmicks and poorly crafted jump scares, "Paranormal Activity" is a breath of fresh air. The realistic filming and intense atmosphere have made this movie a modern horror classic. The characters are highly relatable and sympathetic, and the entity is understated yet horrifying. The special effects used throughout the film are subtle and carefully timed, maintaining just the right feel from start to finish. After establishing its main characters, the film moves at a feverish pace, providing one of the most intense horror thrill rides to date. What "Paranormal Activity" lacks in gore is made up for in its perfect timing and subtle terror that will have viewers looking over their shoulders long after the film is over.

Rating 4 out of 5