Friday, October 23, 2009
Movie Review: Paranormal Activity
I have heard a lot of really good things about this movie, and my brother was very interested in seeing it, so we went out Monday night and caught a showing. Movies like this can be hit or miss. On one hand, I really do consider the films budget in how I set my enjoyment levels. If someone spent $100 million on a film, I expect higher quality acting, effects, directing; in short I expect a higher degree of quality. Now in comparison if a film is made cheaply, I don't expect the same commitment, I expect either something original, or at the very least something fun. In part this can explain my love of "B" movies and Sy-Fy channel films, they are cheap and poorly acted, but then again, you get what you pay for and you know what to expect, a ridiculous romp with lesser actors and crazy stories. I am not sure if its necessarily a double standard, its just one of the factors I use in determining expectations for a film. The higher the expectations, the more you want to like a it.
With Paranormal Activity, I went in with probably higher expectations than I should have. Word of mouth can also drive up how much you want to like a movie, and in this ones case I had heard how scary the film was. That was tempered by my knowledge that the film was made on a paltry $11,000 budget, definitely something that I am going to give some slack to. Independently produced films like this are not being made much anymore, and anything that can get studios looking outside the cookie cutter film genres they have created is a good thing.
Paranormal Activity is almost what I would call a pot boiler of a scary movie. It stars newcomers Katie Featherstone (as Katie) and Micah Sloat (as Micah) as a couple who have recently moved in together. Lately their sleep has been interrupted at night by strange goings on, which Katie believes to be a ghost that has haunted her for years. Micah, not a beliver, has set up a camera to capture what happens at night and document the supposed haunting. As each night passes, the haunting become worse and worse, escalating activity until a psychic reveals that Katie is being haunted by a demon, and one who feeds off anger and tension. The film is presented as a composite of all of the footage Katie and Micah filmed, documenting what in the beginning are merely strange occurrences to darker and more disturbing activities over the weeks of filming.
I mentioned I called this a potboiler. For me, while there are defiantly scary elements in the film, it really builds towards the big payoff scare in the end. Though I could see if ghosts are a real phobia for you, this could certainly scare you. What sells the picture are the two actors, Katie and Micah. Micah plays the boyfriend with enough anger and disbelief that you really flip from finding sympathy for his character to wondering why he is being such an unsupported ass. The breakout role is Katie Featherstone though. Her journey from slightly rattled college student to her full blown meltdown is what the picture hinges on. Over the course of the film you really root for her to be able to shaking this haunting, and she does it all while maintaining a likable and more importantly, believable air about her. This is a film that has to be made with unknowns, you just won't find that same level of believability in actors you already have preconceived notions about.
I won't ruin the scares for you, but for the minimal budget they did a great job with effects. The limited makeup work and physical effects are executed great, and the minor computer effects are good as well. Writer/Director Oren Peli crafts a very simple story, using mostly still shots from the camera, but manages to bridge the shaky cam feel of movies like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield with more stationary shots. This way to don't get the vertigo feeling that many moviegoers didn't like in those, but you still get enough to create that intimacy that the film crew is looking for. The key is the continual build of the scare, using actions just out of the cameras line of sight, making the things that you don't see scarier than the things you do.
Honestly I did like the movie, I was just a bit underwhelmed by it all. The hype of it being one of the scariest movies of all time was overblown in my opinion, but that doesn't mean its a bad film at all. It simply means go in with the expectation that you are looking at a very well acted film made for $11,000 and you will realize that you certainly get your moneys worth. I will say too that I would be quite surprised to not see Katie Featherstone in more work very soon. For a Halloween treat at the movies, I would recommend Paranormal Activity as a good film and a fun scare.
End of Line.