31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #19 – Paranormal Activity (2007)

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Tagline: What Happens When You Sleep?

Director: Oren Peli

Writer(s): Oren Peli

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Budget: $15,000

Box Office: $193.4m

Release Date: 16th October, 2009

IMDb Rating: 6.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Katie Featherston – Katie

Micah Sloat – Micah

Mark Fredrichs – Psychic

Amber Armstrong – Amber

Ashley Palmer – Diane

Trailer

Plot According to Google: Soon after moving into a suburban tract home, Katie and Micah become increasingly disturbed by what appears to be a supernatural presence. Hoping to capture evidence of it on film, they set up video cameras in the house but are not prepared for the terrifying events that follow.

Inertia’s Insight: We can debate all day the pro’s and con’s of found footage horror (I’m all for it), and we could all probably agree on the succession of sequels that came in the wake of the original film, but one thing you can’t deny is just how effective Paranormal Activity really is. It is the paragon of low budget horror, embracing its limitations to astounding success.

Young couple Katie and Micah move in to their ridiculously-large-for-just-the-two-of-them house in the Californian suburbs, and not soon after they have moved in the unfamiliar occurrences start. At first passed off as new-house jitters, Katie’s increasing concern at the nighttime mishaps leads the immature Micah to capture the events on film, which quickly develop…

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Found footage films have an iron clad rule: you have to have a reason for filming, but more importantly, to keep filming. The house move gives Micah a reason to document their life, and his enthusiasm for filming extends into documenting their unusual goings-on in the middle of the night. Micah sets up a camera in the bedroom, looking to capture a logical explanation for what Katie considers to be paranormal phenomenon.

The balance of skeptic and believer between Micah and Katie mirrors the audience’s stance on this kind of phenomena. Though we know its a horror film, there are many viewers that will pass off the character’s reactions and the set-pieces as nonsense or fake (perhaps as a way to detract from their own fear?) and its an extra catalyst for the tension that builds between the two. Katie’s nearly sleepless nights are affecting her physically and mentally, and Micah’s carefree blase attitude towards this potentially threatening situation stretches their relationship and only furthers the intensity of the possession.

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For a debut film, Peli crafts a taut and tense horror film. The beauty of found footage films, particularly when the camera is static, is that you are watching every inch of the frame for a sign of something off. The positioning of the camera in the bedroom is perfect, as you are watching the bedroom and the dark corners of the hallway outside the open bedroom door. It starts with a shadow on the wall, or the quick movement of the bed covers. But eventually, the terror starts.

As Katie’s personality begins to change and a demonologist warns them against the unspeakable evil that resides over their house, Katie and Micah’s relationship struggles against this inexplicable change in their environment. Soon, there is no doubt: as Katie is dragged from her bed and out of the room, the haunting unfolds and its intentions are known. Bite marks and bruises appear on Katie and she becomes catatonic, and as the sun sets on their final night in their home, the terror truly unfolds…

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Paranormal Activity is an outstanding debut from Peli, who sadly hasn’t gone on to helm other films that could showcase his talents. But here, with a limited budget and setting he has crafted a superior horror film that makes the unseen and the unknown far more terrifying than what you could see (which is what makes Ghost Dimension such a turd of a film). The overriding storyline across the rest of the Paranormal Activity films expands on the haunting of Katie and Micah, but here we see enough to know that, for the next few nights at least, we’ll be leaving the light on…

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * *

Trivia

  • The original ending was changed once the film was picked up by Paramount Pictures. The released ending is one suggested by Steven Spielberg.
  • The film was made in Oren Peli’s own home in just 10 days.
  • Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make. It was purchased by Paramount for $350,000 and ended up grossing $193m worldwide.

Quotes

PSYCHIC: You cannot run from this – it will follow you. It may lay dormant for years. Something may trigger it to become more active and it may over time reach out to communicate with you.

MICAH: It’s just, I’m in control, I’m making progress.
KATIE: No, you haven’t been having any progress, and you’re not in control. IT is in control, and if you think you’re in control, then you’re being an idiot!

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #20 – All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

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