Film Review – Paranormal Activity

Ok. This is the problem I have with Paranormal Activity, it’s boring. Horror films are meant to be terrifying n’est-ce pas? I found that I was so bored during the opening 20 minutes of the movie that I started to berate it to friends via Facebook, something I have never, ever done in a movie screening before. I really wanted to be scared, believe me. I was expecting great things given the hype from Paramount during it’s release in the US, but it may have raised expectations unnaturally high. A lesson perhaps, for overenthusiastic movie marketeers.

Paranormal Activity has been shot entirely in the style of a handheld home movie, albeit on a slightly higher spec camera, to infuse the film with a sense of reality, something we’ve seen before in films such as Blair Witch and Cloverfield. In horror movies it is essential that the viewer makes some kind of emotional investment in the characters and the experience they are going through, so that in turn, it becomes our own. We feel their fear, and also their relief at the false alarms. The problem is that the actors are both so annoying, so unconvincing in their characters, and the pace so stilted, that it just isn’t possible to make that investment.

The male lead of Micah (Micah Sloat) speaks as someone whose sole frame of reference is the screenwriting of Hollywood blockbusters. His speech is infused with such macho cliches as “Don’t fuck with us!” directed at the malevolent spirit. He also has a petulant attitude when dealing with his girlfriend’s fears that brought some of Adam Sandler’s more irritating, mumbling performances to mind. His girlfriend, Kate (Katie Featherston), who is the focus of the poltergeist activity, delivers a slightly more tolerable performance, but is inhibited by a repetitive script that gives her the same lines in response to each paranormal occurrence. Her character suffers a lack of depth and our interest as a result.

The convention of the horror genre is that a threat is established early on, and we then see this manifest itself to greater levels throughout the film so that the denouement is almost unbearable. Paranormal Activity suffers from such a lack of compelling narrative between each of the documented haunted nights, that you will be screaming, not out of fear, but out of boredom and frustration for the next haunting to hurry up and appear on screen. 

A mysteriously placed photo of Kate as a child appears in the house, but we are not told what its significance is in relation to the haunting. In a later contradictory scene, the old ‘consulting the ancient book of the occult’ scene is wheeled out, as is a bit of modern internet research, to reveal that this a random haunting that has no bearing on previous events. Micah introduces a ouijaboard to proceedings, which the camera witnesses being manipulated, then spontaneously combusting while they are out of the house. Micah attempts to decipher what message might have been left by the spirit, but it is inconclusive, and so, completely pointless from a narrative perspective. What results is a the film equivalent of a ghost train ride, peaks of adrenaline padded out by narrative that lacks the necessary development to push a ‘reveal’ of the reason behind the haunting.

The other problem is the unintentional comic value of a spectral entity that leaves the footprints of a giant duck in the powder scattered on the floor. Somebody better check that Big Bird from Sesame Street is still alive. With so many truly terrifying films films such as The Exorcist, I’m confused as to how someone can get the genre so wrongThis would have been an accomplished film in the context of a horror film festival, but it is not deserving of the acclaim, and wide distribution that it has received.

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