Let me get this out of the way: I liked The Blair Witch Project. I thought it was original for its time, creative and genuinely creepy. I never really understood the backlash that came out against the movie later on. I kind of enjoyed Cloverfield, with the giant unexplained creature trashing New York. I was somewhat indifferent about REC (and appalled by the Americanized version, Quaratine). So, suffice it to say, after seeing the new hot movie of the moment, Paranormal Activities, can we please knock off the pseudo-documentary, hand-held camera schtick? Ten years ago, it may have been clever and original. Today, it’s just a lazy way to look edgy.
I was really looking forward to seeing this film. I bought into the hype, and had heard from numerous people that this was a genuinely frightening film. I saw it with a girl who doesn’t go to many horror movies. I had to talk her in to going, convincing her that a good scare isn’t a bad thing. When it was over, on the way out of the theater, she turned to me and said, echoing my own thoughts, “What the hell was that? That wasn’t scary at all.”
If you don’t know by now, Paranormal Activities details the experiences of Micah and Katie, a couple who have experienced strange goings on in their home. Micah even went out and bought a video camera to document the bizarre acts, setting it up on a tripod in their bedroom to keep vigil over their sleep. The movie starts out slowly, with only a few loud noises, occasional unexplained footsteps, and a bedroom door that opens and closes a few inches on its own.
After consulting a psychic for help, we learn that Katie has been followed by these types of things her entire life. The psychic, who’s appearance later in the film is actually a genuinely funny moment, informs Katie that she’s being stalked by a demon and leaving the house won’t help because the creature will just find her again. It’s a setup to explain why the pair doesn’t just flee at the first sign of trouble, but it’s an unconvincing one as she explained that the odd things happened when she was 8 years old, then again when she was 13, then periodically over the years. It seems to me that it made more sense to move and buy some time for the demon to find her again rather than just hole up exactly where it knew she was, especially when the strange happenings started to escalate.
Early in the film, the nighttime scenes in the bedroom were somewhat scary, but by the 14th or 15th time, it was pretty clear that when the counter at the bottom of the screen stopped moving in time lapse speed into real-time, something was bound to happen. There was never any real tension in the film precisely because of this. Every demonic moment was clearly telegraphed and predictable. It was like watching a flip book horror film, with each night progressing slightly more than the one before, from softer to louder footsteps, light shadows to darker, more defined ones, and the actual physical activities, like bed sheets moving on their own or doors slamming getting slightly stronger with each occurrence. By the film’s end, the conclusion had been foreshadowing to within an inch of its life, leading to what seemed more like the inevitable rather than genuinely surprising. In fact, the only thing that surprised me was that Katie never snatched the video camera from Micah’s hands and smacked him upside the head with it.
I will say that last few minutes of the film does have the only two “jump” moments, and the very end is at least somewhat creepy, if predictable. The only real tension in the entire film came after it was over. A short copyright notice came onto the screen, Followed by black with the slight freight-train sounding buzz in the background, leaving me to wonder if something was coming. The black screen lasted for almost two minutes, the lights still dimmed in the theater, all the while steeled up for something to appear and shock us, but nothing ever happened. Just like the film itself, waiting and waiting and waiting for something scary or unexpected to happen, only to be left disappointed.
That being said, this isn’t a horrible film, just bland and a little slow. If you haven’t seen it, it’s probably worth a look for a buck from a DVD vending machine down the line, but don’t waste the high price of a theater ticket. I have a feeling that the theater experience actually detracted from this movie anyway, and it might be more effective watched alone in a dark room.