REVIEW Paranormal Activity: Dark Steps For Hollywood's Indie Paranoia

Can somebody please make a spoof starring Katie and Peter? “Oh my god Pete, the ghost put Swarovski crystals in my smiley face chips.” “Is it just me Katie – or are the chicken nugget dinosaurs watching me?”

Every five years or so a hand-held horror flick rises its ugly head in Hollywood, where the character names are those of the actors, where nightvision settings ignite our imaginations and the script is plaited with “what the f**k was that?” and “turn that f**cking camera off.”
Paranormal Activity tells the story of Katie and Micah, a young middle-class couple who have moved into a new home. At night they are haunted with strange noises and happenings by what Katie believes to be a demon that has tormented her since childhood. The couple move cameras into their bedroom in an attempt to capture this demonological activity.

New director Oren Peli filmed Paranormal Activity in his own home, making alterations to its interior over a period of months, including the installation of noisy floorboards, until it felt wrong enough to make a low-budget blockbuster. One distinctly evil feature of the set was the heavily balustraded central staircase that changes direction acutely, stunting the audience’s visionary control.

The film offers an interesting portrait of a pre-marital relationship, as Micah’s growing determination to document and “solve” the supernatural problems becomes a problem in itself, overshadowing Katie’s sensitivities and building an obsessive and possessive power dynamic within their relationship that seems to both thrill and provoke the supposed demon.

She constantly asks Micah to turn the camera off and although this plot device is ironed-out by Micah’s comedic ploys to film himself having sex, ultimately Katie’s wines become an irritation for the audience. Indeed, the hand-held genre is tricky to master, the main challenge to its believability being our instinctive desire to point the camera away at times of stress and unpleasance. Some horological ingenuity added to the horror though as we watch the camera’s time setting speed up to reveal the bizarre longevity of Katie’s sleepwalking and restlessness.

Although some critics have praised Paranormal Activity for its relentlessly claustrophobic and spatially limited setting, I felt a lack of any wider context hindered the film’s success. A major strength of The Blair Witch Project was its faux-escapism and prequel footage, not to mention those creepy vox pops from eccentric citizens in the local town.

When footsteps belonging to the demon crop up and audible growls emerge my first thoughts were that Micah was staging a haunting to blow Katie’s confidence and make her dependent on him. Wow, I marvelled to myself between mouthfuls of Ben & Jerry’s, he’s editing the footage from each night and using his audio suite downstairs to manipulate everything, he’s a PSYCOPATH! Sadly the film wasn’t that intelligent and five seconds later Katie is sliding around her house screaming while an invisible demon manages to materialise very visible scratches on her body.

Perhaps the real demon in Paranormal Activity is our own human obsession with documenting and processing everything electronically. In his desperate attempt to shake off his girlfriend’s incubus, Micah fills his home with cameras, wires, computers, nightvision lamps and television screens.

I not sure if I’ll watch this film again, but it can be very proud of itself considering a measly production budget of $15,000, I certainly froze with fear in bed last night when the bathroom door clicked itself open! I probably will watch it again in a few years.

The highest feat of Paranormal Activity is its success in finding a distributor solely through online support. Hollywood’s claws were prized open for once by the solidarity of alternative movie fans. YouTube hosted the film’s trailer, for free of course, and generated more than 1,000,000 viewers quite rapidly. Hairs have certainly been raised on Hollywood's back. Warner Bros know that they must react to this increasing level of independent movie conquests, or die mercilessly at the hands of a new paranormal film industry…

What’s that? Sarah Jessica Parker alongside Hugh Grant? Awesome! Okay, okay, it’s not quite the beginning of the end.

Below: Actors Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat. The Ghostbusters rendition was removed in post-production.

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