Movie Review: ‘Paranormal Activity’

November 25, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

Katie Featherston finds things really do go bump in the night in horror movie Paranormal Activity (Icon)
Katie Featherston finds things really do go bump in the night in horror movie Paranormal Activity (Icon)
Paranormal Activity arrives with a hail of hype the likes of which hasn’t been seen since The Blair Witch Project. Released in limited cinemas over a month ago in the States, the camcorder phenomenon stirred up such a scare that expectant audiences around the country demanded it be shown in their city through an innovative online voting system.

Of course the question you have to ask yourself is whether this is all just creative marketing or justified praise for a genuinely scary cinema sensation. Well let’s answer it this way: if Jaws made people frightened of the water and Blair Witch put people off rambling in the woods, then Paranormal Activity will make you terrified of what’s happening in your own home after you’ve gone to sleep. In other words: be afraid, be very afraid.

The simple premise sees “engaged to be engaged” couple Katie and Micah (movie debutantes Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) move into a plush new home only to become increasingly convinced there may be an otherworldly presence already there. In order to prove their suspicions, Micah buys a high-def video camera and sets it up at the foot of their bed to document the strange nightly goings-on. But this only seems to trigger an escalation in the paranormal activity and things soon go from bad to worse for the unfortunate pair.

An exercise in edge-of-your-seat tension and escalating terror, Paranormal’s zippy 85-minute runtime starts with an overwhelming sense of foreboding and constantly keeps building its scares from there until it reaches a gasp-inducing, fingers-over-the-eyes, blood-chilling conclusion. Employing old-school, simplistic spook house tricks (you know what they say, the old ones are the best), savvy creator and first-time feature-filmer Oren Peli keeps this sense of expectant dread growing by carefully intensifying the night hauntings. He keeps you guessing as to when the big concluding night will come to release us – you’ve got to endure through fear to earn the cathartic release. Even then, it might not be the ending you were hoping for.

Deserving of the hype and praise that is being heaped on it, Paranormal Activity only lets itself down in its last dying generic moments (shave off literally 10 seconds and you have the perfect open-to-discussion ending. Exactly like The Bourne Ultimatum actually…). This tiny misstep aside though, it is undoubtedly the type of “proper” scary movie (as in it will stay with you long after the film has finished, no doubt affecting your own sleep pattern) that delivers 100 per cent on an audience level and demands to be viscerally experienced in a darkened room alongside a peer group of equally scared strangers.