Thursday, November 26, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Ashley Palmer, Amber Armstrong; Director: Oren Peli; Producers: Jason Blum, Oren Peli; Screenwriter: Oren Peli; Editor: Oren Peli; Genre: Horror/ Thriller; Distributor: Paramount Pictures; Location: San Diego, California, USA; Running Time: 86 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 2
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

Live-in partners Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) move in to a large, hardly used house in San Diego. Katie has been hounded since childhood by strange presences, and this time it seems a presence has followed her to this new residence. Strange happenings at night in a bedroom upstairs stirs Micah to document it with his new handheld camera. Experimenting with the camera like a little boy with a new toy, Micah shoots Katie and the house interior from various angles. Then he hits upon a bright idea: why not set up the camera on a tripod at the foot of their bed and leave it running to record happenings while they sleep. The camera indeed records paranormal activity—like the bedroom door moving by itself, to begin with. Katie calls in a psychic (Mark Fredrichs) who upon entering the door refuses to stay, saying it is not just a ghost in the house with Micah and Katie but a demonic presence. The recordings get eerier and eerier each time until Katie, seriously disturbed now, begs Micah to leave the house. But Micah would hear none of it, obsessed as he is with his experiment, thinking that everything could be explained if he took enough evidence of the nocturnal activity. One night, something happens that hurts Katie and scares Micah to the point of urging her to abandon the house. But this time, Katie, seemingly too weak to move, begs Micah to just stay.

Paranormal Activity is a nifty little horror film so flawlessly done you’d think it’s a true story. The devises used make the story appear as though the camera findings—recorded in black and white— were discovered after the fact. The movie does away with the usual opening credits other films have, saying only in a soundless frame that it “thanks the families of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat”; it also ends with a similar frame saying “current whereabouts unknown” to make the viewer think they have just seen a documentary. The characterization and acting, especially Katie’s, is seamless as far as the purpose of the movie goes. Both acting and wardrobe—loose t-shirts and boxer shorts for sleeping and unattractive clothes for daily wear—create a true image of the characters as ordinary people: Katie as a graduate student, and Micah as a day trader. For a movie that has only two principal actors and shot mostly inside the house, Paranormal Activity succeeds in holding the viewer’s breath through all of 96 minutes. It knows how to play upon the audience’s imagination and fear of the unseen, and presents the camera, an inanimate object, as a credible and objective witness to the paranormal activity.

How Katie and Micah end up is what merits scrutiny here. As the paranormal activity escalates to a critical turning point, it becomes obvious that there is something more than the paranormal in the movie’s message, and that is the very “normal” tendency of an immature man to be insensitive to a woman’s cry for help. (Spoiler coming!) Katie could have been saved were it not for Micah’s fixation with his camera. His goal was to document everything, not to help Katie. Too pragmatic for his own good, he failed to sympathize with Katie in her darkest hour, angrily took the wooden cross from her grasp and threw it to the fire. The consequence? See for yourself.

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