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...A Thousand Paranormal Words

Movie Title: Paranormal Activity (2009)
Spoilers: No

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There is a term for low budget movies that cost little to make, and against all odds, blow up into huge gross-ers. “Sleepers” is the term. An example: the 1999 Blair Witch Project. Opinions differ on the quality of the film, but it cost a mere $35,000 to produce and grossed (worldwide) more than 248 million.

Next in line for consideration: Paranormal Activity. It is for sure less sophisticated than Blair Witch, but it’s sad to consider that a chunk of the viewers lost out on the effects because they were teenyboppers and wanted a cheap date thrill instead of a story with a meaningful plot. But for most of us with brains, Blair Witch was scary as hell, and so is Paranormal Activity—much scarier even. Best part of all, age isn’t going to be a factor here.

Ten minutes in and you’re still swearing that this can’t be scary. Wait till you hit thirty-five minutes and see if that conviction hasn’t lessened a bit. It will weaken the longer you watch. To start, you feel like you’re watching a homemade movie, and indeed you are. It’s like one of your buddies got on YouTube and just started filming around the house. Only, there was no 10-minute time limit. Ug!

The stars are young people, born some time around 1989, I'm sure. Chances are, just three years ago, he was eating too much Mac-n-Cheese in his dorm room, and she was going out drinking with the girls every other night and coming home smelling of vodka. If you were standing near them together, they would smell like soap. It would overpower their cologne or perfume. I shouldn’t joke since I work with a guy who is best friends with Katie Featherston (her real name and name in the film).

The picture begins with random shots of Micah (Micah Sloat) playing with his new camera. He got the camera to investigate the random occurrences that keep plaguing he and Katie, who is his live-in girlfriend. These weird things have been following Katie since her childhood in and out of three different houses. Now things are getting worse, and you get to watch as “bump in the night” mischief turns to mayhem.

Ok, Blair Witch wasn’t your thing. How about Cloverfield (2008)? It was an intense – supercharged! – suspense-packed thriller made like this one, with an ordinary camera that most any college student can afford. YouTube has changed the world. Has the ordinary camcorder done the same? Has it changed the horror movie genre? How many bad copycatters to follow? How long will this take to get old? Is it already?

You sit there glued to the screen. This is because you know that you aren’t going to have to endure fluttery special affects or embellished graphics of monsters or evil hell beasts. You endure the sometimes-real-and-sometimes-not filming of mundane household activities because you know that whether true or false, what you see will be something believably scary. It won’t let you down in that regard, although it won’t get really scary until some ways in. You don’t care. The expectation of suspense gets you past the irrelevant guff. And that low hum that passes for music when Katie and Micah are in bed...wow, that got under my skin!

What you get isn’t perfect, and that is due to this “mockumentary” being an admittedly non-professional production. But then, it isn’t expected to be graceful or well done, so it gets a pass…or does it? Should it? In some ways, it disappoints…the video of the exorcism gone wrong…a psychic coming over and then stiltedly turning around and leaving…the couple’s continual reluctance to turn the lights on when they need to see…I let out a smirk and then a “Puh-lease!”

They are so afraid of that one room, but foolishly, they keep sleeping there. And the camera gets toted around so much that you nearly want to root for the demonic entity. This was not a great film. This all-American and comely-looking couple is supposed to tug at your heart-strings. Sorry, I didn’t like them that much! I did like that there were only four active cast members.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that the film was not a success. It was. Just hearing people talk about unexplained things happening creates fear, and the movie does that well. It is an anthropological fact that storytelling is the best way to pass on wisdom and teach lessons. The bi-product is suspense, which is why learning to write in the present tense is literarily invaluable. But the suspense – and the suspense alone – is what gives this one a thumbs-up (if only by the skin of its teeth). It’s far more interesting and scary than ten Sorority Sows or Halloween sequels or, heck, 90% of horror films and their weak re-makes.

The things that people fear the most are the unknowns. Write that down! But once something can be analyzed or studied, the fear factor all but disappears. When we can put the components of a mystery into perspective, superstition has much less wiggle room, which means less fright. The paranormal can only exist and thrive in that shrinking realm called “the unknown.” “God exists in the gaps of our knowledge of the world,” so said Epicurus. And this is coming from a guy who has actively investigated “haunted houses” as a former believer in them.

We get so many movies wearing bad disguises while trying to proverbially “sneak in” as being scary movies. Most of them aren’t. This is a welcome sidestepping that will bring the longed-for feelings of terror. Last I checked, that is what horror movies were intended to do!

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: R
Director: Oren Peli
Summary: Footage captures a couple tormented by a demonic entity.
Starring: Katie Featherston “Katie,” Micah Sloat “Micah,” Mark Fredrichs “The Psychic,” Amber Armstrong “Amber”
Genre: Horror / Mystery / Thriller
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