Monday, November 1, 2010

Throwback Review for Halloween Leftovers - Paranormal Activity (2009)

It's November 1st and you woke up to a Halloween Hangover.  Your stomach's filled with melting milk chocolate, your brain recovering from a sugar crash.  Or maybe you're just hung over for real, with evidence from last night's party pounding in your head, and littering your floor (is that a "beaver" custome?  What were you thinking?).

They say the best remedy for a hangover is to get right back to the party.  So grab some of those trick or treat leftovers, hit the couch and que up one of those scary movies you didn't have time for.  You could pick one from The Bru's excellent list, or you could start with the movie below.  Because The Simpson's Halloween Special isn't on till next week, and scary never goes out of style.

Paranormal Activity was the 2009 Horror King. In a case of history repeating itself, this Blair Witch redux is low budget scare fare making big waves (and big money) at theaters across America. It’s a champion for independent filmmakers everywhere, and potentially a harbinger of a long-delayed shift away from the grandiose torture-violence that’s dominated the genre for the better part of the decade. Horror, if you may recall, used to be not just scary and gross but fun. And it’s that sense of fun that Paranormal embraces.

Essentially a haunted house story shot with a single camera and two novice actors, the movie preys on both your familiarity with ghosts and the related fearful expectations of what’s to come. Written and directed by Oren Peli, it details the seemingly real paranormal encounters of boyfriend/girlfriend couple Katie and Micah. Katie says she’s been haunted on and off since the age of 8 (which she forgot to mention before moving in with Micah, of course). So Micah sets a video camera up at night to capture all the bumps and scares…and angers the spirits in the process.

Is it scary? Mostly it consists of parlor tricks, and a pattern approach to the narrative that both employs the expectations tactic and removes the sense of surprise. By day, the couple talks/eats/lives. But when they go to bed at night, we know something will happen. We’re waiting for it. At first the ghoul starts small – doors moving, light flickering. But as the film progresses so too does the haunting, and by the end it gets freaky.

Still, it’s never terrifying. If anything Paranormal Activity is good, spooky fun – a creep fest that’ll leave you with an eerie feeling, but not make you sick to your stomach. It’s a slow build, and it saves the best for last (rumor has it the knockout ending came from Spielberg himself).

Most importantly, Peli's film is two things – creative, low-budget filmmaking that reminds us what the medium is capable of, and the result of that creativity, in which a society comes together to experience and enjoy a phenomenon. There are scarier films, but there are few this year that are as important.

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