Tuesday, November 17, 2009



If you’re anything like me, you might have a sense of dread and nervousness that comes with your curiosity to see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. After seeing it, I can provide you with a [spoiler free] insight into whether or not you’ve got the nerves to stand it.

Before seeing it, I admit with a mild sense of humility, lost some sleep over seeing the trailer… jolting up in the middle of the night thinking that someone was playing with my feet. So I certainly had some hesitation over whether or not I should see it, trying to calculate just how well I could function in a worst case “never sleep again” scenario. Luckily that wasn’t the case, but that’s not at all to say that the film wasn’t effective.

First, I’d like to briefly address the hype of the film. When any film comes with as much marketing exposure as this, it’s going to instantly divide audiences and create what I like to call “anti-hype-ites.” Anti-hype-ites will immediately take a stand against the film, sometimes without even seeing it. Others who do see it would never admit that it was at all effective. On the flip side, marketing campaigns tend to blow things out of proportion and take advantage of those movie-goers most susceptible to the power of suggestion. For this film, it’s being claimed as “one of the scariest movies of all time,” so naturally there are forums upon forums of anti-hype-ites that call it ‘inept’ and ‘silly’. Where the usually leaves the general audience is somewhere in void between the two ends of the spectrum.

Here’s the thing: regardless of the hype and anti-hype, the film is effective. It’s damn effective. It knows exactly how it wants to infiltrate your senses, and it does exactly what it sets out to do.

The greatest ability that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY possesses (heh) is, much like it’s marketing campaign, the power of suggestion. It utilizes the audience’s imaginations to create the extent of the threat in the film. Very early in the film the main characters invite a psychic to their house, and the information he gives plants seeds in our minds as to what the possibilities of this evil might be capable of. Later, we see one of the main characters flipping through a book on demons, showing us numerous pictures of beasts; the next time it cuts to a night shot while they are in bed, the same event is ten times scarier because the audience has let their curiosity create a monster far worse than anything they could ever show.

But beyond the power of suggestion, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY really hones in on the simplest of fears and vulnerabilities. We feel less safe at night, we feel most vulnerable in bed, we panic when we sense a threat but cannot see it. What’s more, is that when the threat renders us completely helpless, having no way to stop it or control our environment for protection, it leaves us no thread of hope left to cling to. And just in case your defenses to go back up during the film, it’s constantly infused with humor from a hilarious main character so that it builds up some more comfortability that it can tear back down.

The comparisons to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT are obvious, but rather trite. Outside of the fact that they are both horror films shot by the main characters on hand-held cameras, and gained their success through clever internet marketing campaigns, there isn’t much else similar. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY succeeds in most ways that BLAIR WITCH fails, its actors are far more convincing (and less annoying,) its concept doesn’t outstay its welcome, and it preys on much more personal fears. This is coming from someone who was almost brought to tears during a screening of BLAIR WITCH, though ten years later it just seems more like a jumbled mess of mediocre actors than anything remotely terrifying.

I feel like I’ve been making too much of a case for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY though. From the get-go it’s apparent that the characters are actors. They are very appealing, and do well at their job, but since it doesn’t claim to be a true story it’s easier to separate yourself from the films events. There are a number of scenes that feel like they are there purely to progress the story and set up the next night scene (when the activity actually happens.) There are enough technicalities to allow you to feel safe in saying “this is just a movie.”

But the real fun of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and probably the biggest factor in whether or not you may or may not be too scared to see this film, is seeing it with a sold out audience. I had the fortunate opportunity to see a midnight showing in an old theater with not a single seat unfilled. If ever there was a film meant for a collective audience, it’s this. I cannot imagine this film holding up as well in your living room. Experiencing it with a hundred more people makes the jumps jumpier and the laughs laughier. If you go, you can take comfort and amusement in watching how everyone reacts. Ever see 150 people sink into their seats at the same time?

I’m not sure if it’s because I have spent the last ten years watching horror films or because I’m ten years older and I’m more scared of my credit card bill than a ghost, but PARANORMAL ACTIVITY didn’t make me lose too much sleep. Really, it had the perfect balance of terror, cheap thrills, and enough resonance to keep me thinking about it, but not keeping me up at night. Certainly when I’m going to sleep, I get flashes of images in my mind from the film, but that faded quickly.

I fully intend on seeing it a second time to see if the film has any longevity beyond its initial scares, so coming from someone that used to have to jump into bed for fear of having their foot grabbed after seeing THE SIXTH SENSE, maybe you can gauge whether or not you’d be too scared to see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.

- This Guy Over Here