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Movie Review: Paranormal Activity


Movie Review: Paranormal Activity

The film falls short by arranging a regrettably thin layer of spooky occurrences beneath a thicker deposit of badly acted exposition and obnoxious characters. The couple and all secondary characters are total unknowns, which fits with the idea that audiences are privy to the lives of everyday citizens. The problem lies in the movie’s inability to create believable tension.

Movie Poster: Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Activity

Directed by Oren Peli
Screenplay by Oren Peli

Katie – Katie Featherston
Micah – Micah Sloat
The Psychic – Mark Fredrichs

CLR [rating:1.5]

Movie Still: Paranormal Activity

‘The Scariest Movie of the Year’ Is Meek at Best

This is the time of year when, in temperate climes, leaves riot with color, breezes take on the scent of decay, and all the cultures that celebrate All Hallows Eve prepare for the year’s first nod to the holiday season. Scary movies are a serious draw when temperatures drop and leaves start to fall—and since the only other horror film released this month has been the sixth movie in the Saw franchise (just get it over with already!), Paranormal Activity will certainly make bank at the box office this weekend. Unfortunately, it is not the kind of catharsis many look for in a horror movie, nor is it remotely as interesting as its predecessors in the home-video-horror genre. In fact, it’s downright disappointing.

When The Blair Witch Project released in 1999, half of audiences believed they were actually watching footage chronicling the last days of three student filmmakers. That film fell at precisely the correct moment in recent history for that kind of guerrilla filmmaking. Amateurish as it may have been, it preceded the communications technology with which we’re all inundated each day, each hour, each second. It seemed possible that the movie could be real because the marketing relied solely on spare, spooky trailers and an intriguingly vague website. Ten years later, Paranormal Activity tries to exploit the same shaky-cam, night-vision film—and fails.

Paranormal Activity follows a young San Diego couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) through a month in Fall 2006 in which they strive to capture the presence that’s haunting their suburban home. The premise is simple: grad student Katie has sensed a supernatural force around her since the age of eight, and boyfriend Micah, a day trader who looks and acts like a frat boy, takes the haunting personally and decides to try to capture it with a video camera. Camera phones, the social media of Twitter and Facebook, and easy access to the kind of cinematic technology that used to be found only in Hollywood and college classrooms, have seemingly compelled us all to keep the world informed of every aspect of our personal lives. So of course the film industry wants to capitalize on the overshare.

The film falls short by arranging a regrettably thin layer of spooky occurrences beneath a thicker deposit of badly acted exposition and obnoxious characters. The couple and all secondary characters are total unknowns, which fits with the idea that audiences are privy to the lives of everyday citizens. The problem lies in the movie’s inability to create believable tension. The night-vision camera, which Micah sets up in their bedroom, captures one paranormal happening after another, but the tension isn’t enough to keep the plot moving. In Blair Witch, the characters began to use their cameras as buffers between themselves and the horror confronting them nightly; in that film the behavior makes perfect sense. You try to escape what you can’t believe or categorize. Paranormal Activity’s Micah, however, is simply the ultimate narcissist. He says multiple times that no one messes with his girlfriend and his house and gets away with it. He treats the subject with an appropriate amount of disdain and disbelief, borrowing a Ouija board and regarding the psychic Katie calls with utter contempt. As things progress he gradually becomes a believer while Katie descends into mentally unstable territory.

The movie touches briefly on theology—according to the resident psychic, the malevolent force responsible for slamming doors and amphibian nighttime footprints is no ghost, but an angry demon. The film only provides the audience with a fleeting nod to evil forces whose mythology should be utterly terrifying. Micah finds an article online telling the story of a “woman from the 60s” whose haunting bears a striking resemblance to Katie’s, but not enough information is conveyed to create adequate apprehension. There are a few genuinely spooky moments and one particularly jarring instant (which for some reason the filmmakers included in the trailer). But ultimately the film never lives up to the kind of tension it’s supposed to create, and the end is a cringing nod to every other movie in this subgenre.

The marketing campaign for this film is pure genius; the internet has been abuzz with reviews touting it as the scariest movie of the year. Frankly (and luckily for the filmmakers), 2009 has been a meager year in the realm of horror. The filmmakers strove to capitalize on the phenomenon created by The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Unfortunately, although the dollars will undoubtedly roll in for all involved, this movie fails to live up to its more worthy predecessors. For a good home-movie scare this Halloween, rent the utterly terrifying [REC] or its American remake, Quarantine. Watch Blair Witch again (at the very least, its foreboding Maryland woods set the scene for autumn). Although Paranormal Activity may tweak some viewers’ nerves, don’t go into it hoping for the most terrifying movie you’ve ever seen, lest you leave feeling duped..

Paranormal Activity trailer

Julia Rhodes graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Communication and Culture. She's always been passionate about movies and media, and is particularly fond of horror and feminist film theory, but has a soft spot for teen romances and black comedies. She also loves animals and vegetarian cooking; who says horror geeks aren't compassionate and gentle? Google+



  1. messenger again

    November 30, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    i don’t think if this movie is real enough to scary me..?

    honestly when i watched the movie with my sister i’m tired on watching it at first but in the end i don’t know what to think when i saw a girl holding a knife with blooded shirt, and her guy didn’t come back after fetching his girl down stair. and the most scary thing is when the girl sat beside the bed at 19 hours before the police come to shot the girl.

    what happened to the guy?..

    comment to whom it may concern

  2. Lucy Zeledon

    November 15, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    P.S The trailer is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooomisleading! I repeat IT SUCKED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Lucy Zeledon

    November 15, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    This movie is absolutely terrible! I demand a refund of my money and time. Spongebob Squarepants is scarier than this movie!!!!!!! WORST MOVIE EVER! ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE! I WANT TO CRY AT HOW MUCH IT SUCKED!

  4. That Guy

    November 5, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    This review is very well written, regardless of your viewpointon the film. I fall into the group who thought this film lacked everything but light, sound and celluloid. I am heartened though to see that in the era of been-there seen-that there are still so many people who have neither seen much, nor thought critically about what they have seen. Next up, Tyra : The Movie!

  5. trezure

    October 30, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    omg this movie is great
    and for you basterds to leave the movie is rude
    they died u idiots!
    but it was a good movie!
    im scared
    and its like woaah
    defeniatly recomend it!

  6. Pierce

    October 29, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    First of all, everyone should know that this movie is basically a psychological thriller with horror elements. Everything that I have heard from people in person or read on-line indicates a completely split decision between two parties: Namely, those who thought the movie was the scariest thing they’ve seen in their lives and those who believed the movie to be a total flop.

    I saw the movie yesterday and determined the common division between these two very different positions. This division is linked to the first half or maybe even three-quarters of the movie being build-up. In a way, this is a brilliant move by the director, Oren Peli, but it is a move that can only work if the action after the build-up is sufficient to actually frighten the viewer.

    Clearly, in about half of the cases it was, and it was not in the other half. It was certainly not for me.

    The reason that I think most critics were so impressed with it is because they only watched it due to the hype. In other words, I doubt if the critics, themselves, even really watch any movies in the horror genre and just assign one star or two stars based on whoever is in it. If critics had really been following the evolution of the genre over the last fifteen years, the subtlety of this movie may have been enough to interest, but not to impress.

  7. Rose

    October 28, 2009 at 12:14 am

    I went to see this movie tonight and a lone. I did not get afraid even one time. I would not even call it a horror. A horror is like Friday the 13th. However, I found it interesting and would not say not to go. Don’t expect to see anything like Friday the 13th so on. I have no idea why they say this is the best horror of the year. It was not a horror at all. Just people that had a bad thing in their house that scared them but really nothing to make anyone jump or scream when I was there. It was full to. I will tell you, the ending was disappointing, reason, one of those scenes that do not appear to be the end of the movie.It was very quit in the thearter and it was actually funny when one guy at the end said: Are You f***ing kidding me. Like what type of ending is that. The entire place laughed.

  8. Mike

    October 26, 2009 at 9:36 am

    I agree. This movie was not believable or very scary. The hype for this movie is being overdone. It does not even make my top ten scariest movie list. What a let down. I feel like I have wasted my money. I though Blair Witch was good but not great, and Blair Witch was much better than this one. To much of this was not real enough. Their house was to clean throught out the movie. Their income and jobs not very beleiveable. The acting got worse as the movie went on. I thought the acting was believeable and ok at the start of the film. I recommend waiting for this one on DVD release.

  9. Nick

    October 25, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    When I saw this movie I was horrified. It was a great movie. If you want a good scare go see it!! it was great and everyone who was in there loved it!! GO SEE IT

  10. crystal

    October 25, 2009 at 5:56 pm


  11. Meredith

    October 25, 2009 at 9:33 am

    I want a refund ! This movie was horrible, I should of stayed home and watched ghost hunters and saved my money.

  12. Meg

    October 25, 2009 at 3:20 am

    I also have to disagree with this review. I just watched this movie tonight, and am still deeply disturbed by it hours later.

    I will say that I think some people are a little more sensitive to certain topics/areas when it comes to getting scared, and I happen to be sensitive to ghost/demon type stuff… so that could be why I had a strong reaction to both this movie, as well as Blair Witch when I first saw it.

    I think the movie was well-done, I don’t think the acting was bad either.

  13. FlickDude

    October 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    We could not disagree more. We felt this was wonderfully chilling and entertaining, and this film has managed to really knock the “found footage” horror concept out of the park.

    Blair Witch was the very first experience of its kind, and it can never be pulled off again (I was one of the many who fell hook/line/sinker for the ad campaign back in 99). If this film were in place of BWP back then, I would surely still have difficulty sleeping at night.

    The scares are simple, and permit the audiences own imaginations to fill in much of the blanks, which, for me, is far more terrifying than shoving gore down my throat.

    I have to say, the assertion regarding being “duped” is honestly a little insulting. I feel that we got every penny’s worth on this film. In truth, audiences are being duped on a near weekly basis by most of the explosive dreck hitting the screen as a “blockbuster”…this is definitely not one of those experiences.

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