After seeing it's sequel and being sorely disappointed I've decided to do a review of Paranormal Activity, pointing out its high points, followed by a review of Paranormal Activity 2. I'll then point out the major differences between the two and basically give my take on what worked and what didn't for each (although there wasn't much that didn't work with the first one). Below is a review of Paranormal Activity. In the next few days I'll do a review of Paranormal Activity 2. Everybody who has picked up that issue of Entertainment Weekly or done any research on Paranormal Activity knows that it was the brain child of filmmaker Oren Peli. Peli wrote, cast, shot, edited, and directed the first film and shocked festival audiences around the nation and eventually the world with his minimalist, "realist", and tension laden brand of horror, all for a microscopic budget of 11 grand (estimated production cost provided by www.imdb.com). When asked about his favorite type of horror Peli replied:
"Personally I like the slow burn; I don't think there is anything wrong with it. When I think about the movies that were most effective on me as a viewer I think of the original Haunting and the Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, the Sixth Sense, the Others. These movies are not over the top at all, they are movies that rely on good story telling, good acting, good premise, good exposition and I want to stay true to that in future projects." - Oren Peli.
Peli utilized this technique to near perfection, only slipping away from subtle, fear inducing tactics near the conclusion of his first film. The first three quarters of Paranormal Activity consists of two types of shots with two types of content, the first being handheld daytime shots. During these sequences the audience is given a proverbial window through which to see their characters lives changing in "real-time". The two major characters of the film expose their inner thoughts and personality quirks and also work through their increasingly scary conflict with the audience. This allows us to feel what the characters feel in a sense. A certain sense of detachment that occurs in more formalist styles of filmmaking is canceled out in this film, bringing the audience "face to face" with the characters' fears, which by 30 minutes into the movie, have also become their own. The second type of shot used is the mostly silent, prolonged, static shot of the now iconic bedroom and darkened hallway. The content or action of these shots was both audible and visual, but for most of the film there was nothing that in and of itself was absolutely terrifying. It is the sum of the audience's fears and the gentle nudges given on screen that equal the full degree of terror that can be experienced when viewing this film. Peli scared his audience with the occasional footstep, or by slightly moving the bedroom door. These things have become fears of the general public thanks to shows like Ghosthunters and Fact or Faked. Using these signs of a haunting to implant seeds of fear Peli counted on the tendency of audiences to in the words of filmmaker and founder of Whitestone Motion Pictures Brandon McCormick, "place their scariest fears into whatever blank that the filmmaker leaves," to grow those seeds into giant fear spewing beasts. Eventually, Oren upgraded to using shadowy figures and phantom footprints. The film progressed, slowly ratcheting up the intensity of the haunting occurring as the audiences fear rose exponentially in tandem. This included a few handheld shots taken at night. In the final quarter of the film the director capitalized on the fear that had been building to agonizing levels throughout, by resorting to classic horror tactics and showing the audience something truly terrifying, effectively creating an entirely new population of insomniacs, for at least one night after the film's release. As far as an exercise in conjuring and building fear throughout the course of an entire film, Paranormal Activity was spot on. Given what I've just said, the only downfall for me was the fact that one of the things that happened in the ending wouldn't happen in a real case of a demonic haunting. But as they say, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Until next time enjoy this trailer for Paranormal Activity 2, and sweet dreams.