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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 242: Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity
The least sexy bedroom scene ever

When the general public loves something, I tend to ignore it. Be it music, television, or movies, if the majority of people like it, that means I should stay away. It's not some subconscious angst-ridden “I hate the world” feeling, I just don't trust the majority's taste. Take a look at the Top 100 on Billboard. Nothing but horrendous pop and toothless hip-hop. Good music is out there, it's just not what's on the radio and what's consumed by the masses. I have never heard that “Call Me Maybe” song, but I know I don't have to. I already know it's an audio piece of shit thanks to all the attention it's been given. When a horror movie gains popularity among non-horror fans, I avoid it at all cost, knowing that I am not going to like it. Paranormal Activity is a prime example of this practice. Well, enough time has passed for me to give it a shot.

Paranormal Activity is a 2007 supernatural horror movie written and directed by Oren Peli (Chernobyl Diaries, Area 51). The movie stars Katie Featherston (Mutation, The River) as Katie and Micah Sloat (Paranormal Activity 2) as her boyfriend Micah. Katie and Micah live together in a nice townhouse in San Diego, California. Katie claims to have been haunted by an evil presence ever since she was a young child. Fearing that the presence has returned in their new home, Micah purchases a fancy new camera to document any paranormal activities in the house. He also mounts the camera in their bedroom to catch any happenings while they sleep. The first night, footsteps are heard, but nothing else happens. A psychic named Dr. Fredrichs visits the house and determines that Katie is haunted by a demon, not a ghost. Micah does not take him serious and inquires about using a Ouija board to contact the demon. Dr. Fredrichs implores them not to use the board because contacting the demon could be seen as an invitation. Out of his depth, he advises the couple to contact a demonologist , Dr. Johann Averies. Over the next few nights, the camera picks up minor activity such as lights turning on and off and the bedroom door moving. As the days pass, Micah begins to taunt the demon and goof on Katie who is becoming more and more frightened. On the thirteenth night, the are awoken by an unearthly screech and loud bang. Two nights later, Katie gets up In the middle of the night and stands in front of the bed for hours before Micah finds her sitting outside with no recollection of what has happened. Micah gets out a Ouija board despite Dr. Fredrichs's warning, infuriating Katie. When they leave, the board catches fire and leaves a strange message. On the seventeenth night, Micah leaves powder on the floor to leave a trail for anything that might walk through it. When they wake, they see non-human footprints in the powder leading to the attic. In the attic, Micah finds an old picture of Katie that she thought had been lost in a childhood fire. They ask Dr. Fredrichs for help, but he quickly leaves, citing the great evil in the house being too strong. With the paranormal activities becoming more and more violent, what will Katie and Micah do?


It's no surprise that Paranormal Activity reminds me so much of The Blair Witch Project. Both films found major success thanks to a viral advertising campaign based on it's “found footage” and usage of unknown actors. While found footage allows movies to have a more realistic feel (as well as a much cheaper budget), it also takes away from the storytelling aspect of horror. Thanks to the found footage style, Paranormal Activity connects with the audience on a more personal level. Rather than being set in a haunted house, the movie takes place entirely in a nice suburban townhouse. This real-world setting allows the audience to identify with the characters as we've all heard strange bumps in the night at one point or another. When you take a step back, though, there really isn't much of a story in Paranormal Activity. It was a smart touch to have Katie be haunted rather than the house, solving the all-to-common problem of ghost movies where people just don't move out of the house. By creating this past, though, it leaves a big gap in the movie for potential story interest and character development. We never really find out why she is haunted or by what? We don't need complete answers, but a little something would have gone a long way.

There are some frightening moments in the movie thanks to implied horror and fear of the unknown. Most of these scenes are accomplished through good old-fashioned horror tricks and movie making. Sound is an important part of the movie as there is no music to give the audience warning that something is about to happen. The problem with the movie is that it's just a series of events with minor things in between. By the time we get through half of the movie, we already know the pattern, making the movie predictable. A thump here, a bang there, some chit chat, more sounds etc. The movie also lacked in character development. I would have liked Katie to have been more sympathetic than how she was portrayed. Micah is incredibly annoying and unnecessarily douchey, making me almost cheer for the demon to get him. This also makes the movie like The Blair Witch Project because by the end of that movie I was also cheering for the villain to kill the main characters. It's never good when you want the main characters to meet a horrible end. 

Douche activity

Paranormal Activity is a great testament to how an independent movie with good execution can become a success. I can understand how a movie like this would become popular among the masses. The same thing happened for The Blair Witch Project 20 years ago. That being said, my initial feelings towards avoiding a horror movie popular among the masses were right. The story is very basic and tends to become predictable and boring at times. At the end of the day, Paranormal Activity is just a series of brief scary moments. The scares are decent for the most part and the found footage style fit well with what Oren Peli was going for. I would have liked a little more back-story and more action to make the movie a more complete watch. It's not a bad movie, it's just not as special as some people made it out to be. I don't know if it was worth all the sequels (and horrible ripoffs like “Paranormal Entity”), but there is money to be made, so the studios will milk that cash cow dry. Ignore the hype because it is not the scariest movie ever made. I fully expect another found footage horror movie to become popular in about 10 years or so. You can thank The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity for that.


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