Paranormal Activity

November 1, 2009 at 5:21 pm Leave a comment

I really don’t like horror movies, but after seeing Paranormal Activity last night (Halloween) and sleeping on it, I kind of want to watch it again.

I’m a pretty soft touch when it comes to horror–I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m jumpy, easily startled, and prone to bouts of anxiety.  In other words, suspense takes a hell of a toll on me, so I tend to avoid scary movies like you’d avoid walking under an overpass at night.  But Paranormal Activity, which is still at the top of the box office, has me hooked.  Don’t get me wrong; I left that theater pretty shaken and more than a little nervous about going to bed that night.  But it’s such a well-done movie that, now that I know where the jump-worthy parts are lurking, I want to watch it once more to be frightened and captivated, and to admire its separate parts.

It’s a simple story, and it’s true that it owes more than a little to The Blair Witch Project in terms of style.  It’s main (and pretty much only) characters are Katie and Micah, a twenty-something couple living in a recently-purchased starter home that has an invisible, violent, and hungry presence.  They’re “engaged to be engaged”, which sounds awfully sweet in the first ten minutes of the movie but quickly leaves the two of them a little more bound to each other than they would probably like.  There’s obviously a smaller secondary storyline here about the stress that slowly disintegrates their relationship along with their sanity (it’s appropriate that most of the horror takes place in the bedroom).

The movie starts out with Micah setting up his brand new video camera–a shoulder-mounted monstrosity that looks kind of horrific in itself (we’re to believe the entire film is a product of his “found” footage).  Strange things have been happening in the house lately: creaking, bumps in the night, things moving or being misplaced. His plan is to film the bedroom where they sleep and catch some of these happenings on camera, thereby proving or disproving any paranormal presence. Katie isn’t exactly sold on the idea–during a visit from a neighbourhood psychiatrist, she reveals that this angry presence has haunted her at different periods over her entire life, and she’s wary that trying to catch it on film will only aggravate it.

Don’t feed the presence with negative energy, intones the psychiatrist, but that’s of course exactly what happens. The camera becomes an increasing source of tension between the two, evidence that Micah is not taking their situation as seriously as Katie. He’s dismissive, and uses passive aggressive half-logic to convince her to keep the camera rolling as the demonic occurrences get progressively worse.

“Worse” barely begins to describe it, however.  I won’t get into the particulars, but the film runs the gamut of things that you hope never happen while you’re lying safe in bed, all of them shot on grainy footage in a slow, torturous buildup. Worst are the sounds, which float up the stairs from the main floor.  The genius of the film’s horror is in those sounds: we want to believe, as do Micah and Katie, that they’re just the sounds of the house settling (never acknowledged is the fact that this isn’t an old, creaky house–it looks brand new). We hear lights flicking on and off, thumps, a howling animal scream from the attic, and more terrifying, the sounds of feet running towards us, never seen.

To tell you how the spirit begins to act ON Katie and Micah would be unfair–just know that the demon isn’t content for long to stay out of that bedroom.  Behind all of this is the knowledge that this couple won’t be able to hold it together; they don’t trust each other’s instincts and they’re utterly alone in a big empty house. The movie comes to an end in a scene that’s the culmination of our worst fears: the screams of someone we love waking us, and being terrified of what we’ll find.  The movie’s most ingenious move was the set the action in the bedroom of Katie and Micah.  It’s one thing to be haunted by an ancient witch during a camping trip–most of us would just avoid sleeping in the woods for a few years. It’s something else altogether to know that you won’t be safe once you’re home, wrapped up in blankets. The well-worn patterns and emotions of Katie and Micah don’t hurt either. As a couple, they’re achingly cliche, but not so much that we can’t see a little of ourselves in them.

*Side Note* After you see the movie, have a look around online for descriptions of the alternate endings.  There are generally accepted to be two different ones, both of which are clearly designed to live in either the “tragic” or “in-your-face” categories. I think the current ending is by far the best of the three, having deftly combined the two.  What happens in the final scene is ultimately melancholy, bleak, and definitely horrifying.


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That’s scary 10 things that I CAN do

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About Upper Lip

It's mostly a collection of sweet links and copious amounts of talk talk talk. I like it more and more every day. And yes, even the ugly blue/green color scheme is not without a certain charm.

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