Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Paranormal Activity (2009): 7.1/10

Paranormal Activity (2009): 7.1/10

I need to say a few things about this film before I get to the actual review. There is so much hype, so much calculated and planned hype that has been built around this film. I want to ignore it or try to for the sake of the review because while the marketing is brilliant, it is annoying and everyones reactions to it seems to be based off of the marketing of the film making everyone think this way before they even had seen the film. Looking at the film on these expectations; does it live up to them? Absolutely not. I do not want to judge this in comparison to the claims that it is the scariest film ever made; because it is not. It is far from being that. Based on these claims, the film is completely overrated and completely overhyped. However, if I look at the film without thinking about everything it has been built up to be by the marketing, I really really liked this a lot. I want to keep thinking about the film as its own entity and as a very impressive and creative use of essentially zero budget.

Two things first: 1. I did not see this in the theater. Before anyone can claim "well no wonder it was not one of the scariest movies you have seen if you did not see this in the theater" let me stop you right there. While scary movies are much scarier in the theater then they are while watching at home, a scary film should be able to have relatively the same reaction with people at home then on the big screen. It needs to be able to function and succeed without relying on the communal experience factor going for it. Most of the scariest films I have seen are films I have not seen in the theater. If it cannot match up to those films, then it does not belong on a list of my most frightening films. I am not saying the movie did not scare me. It creeped me out quite a bit.

Secondly the version of it that I saw had the original ending. After reading the new ending that was released in theaters (which proves that it was being prepped for a mass audience from the beginning) I can say that if I had seen that version my rating would be lower. Talk about stupid. While I had problems with the original ending as well, not in content but in style, the ending that I saw was of the classic nobody wins variety that I like to see. Personally though my favorite ending would be the one that was only shown at one screening. It is the ending that after reading about it, just having come off the movie, prevented me from sleeping for a good 15 minutes.

So as I have said before I am not judging this on the basis that it is one of the scariest movies ever made because for me it was not. I am judging it on the basis of whether or not I enjoyed the film. I am a fan of films like this; they do inherently draw me in. I think what the director and writer Oren Peli did with what he had to work with was very impressive and displayed a great deal of creativity on his part.

The film relies on anticipation to an insane degree but it works because the pay off, no matter how small it is, is satisfying based on how he builds the tension throughout the scenes. The film only has two people to really stay with as Micah and Katie provide us with the characters that we watch throughout the film. They, along with the homemade nature of the film ground it in a believability. When this subgenre of films is used, it is neccesary to get actors who can act as naturally as the style of the film calls for. This was an issue I had with Cloverfield; while the style was going for a level of authenticity, the acting was as stilted as any bad big budget film. This is a huge reason that the film that Paranormal Activity is being compared to, The Blair Witch Project (which deserves its status because without it, none of these other films would exist) works so well; the actors in it, particularly Heather Donahue were so good and you never felt like you were watching someone act. While Micah does a very nice job in an unlikeable role, Katie Featherston is extremely convincing here as Katie. She does a really nice job of drawing us into the story and of making us care about what happens to this couple.

Rather than focus on individual character development, Peli focuses on how they interact as a couple. This works well because it does help us care about Micah more when we see that they are happy as a couple at least until Micah gets out of hand with his priorities. It was very amusing to hear him squirm when Katie tells him that he is not in control of the situation; that IT is. "How dare you...blah blah blah" What an idiot. He does set his priorities straight by the end though...but it is too late.

For me the creepiest moments were the pattering footsteps and subsequent crash, the shadow on the door and of course the finale. While the movie is not incredibly scary, it is legitimately creepy in both its use of anticipation and its use of minimal effects. The lack of effects (obviously because of money) adds to the relatability factor that the movie carries which I think is extremely important. In another movie we would have seen a lot more and would probably have seen the demon at some point. The sounds and creepings about that the film shows us are all the types of squeaks and shadows that we think we see in real life. Little moments like that have terrified all of us in real life so taking those small goings on and allowing them to be parrt of an inescapable and random evil is very effective.

I am not looking forward to a sequel at all mainly because as I see it, the film did not end the way other people saw it. While I am intrigued to see what this director can do with a budget and I think he deserves the chance most definitely, I just do not want a sequel. At all.

Overall I really liked this a lot but I hate the hype and the marketing of it, brilliant as it is. It is not one of the scariest movies I have ever seen but it is quite effective and has stuck with me since my viewing of it last night.

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