Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Film Review | Paranormal Activity (2009)

Paranormal Activity is one of those films that passed me by almost entirely when it was released. I remember the buzz, I remember the claims of genre redefinition, but in terms of learning anything regarding the film's themes or content, the most I knew was that it employed the "found footage" style. Having finally got round to watching the film, I'm not all that fussed I hadn't seen it sooner.

The film relates the experiences of Katie (Katie Featherstone) and her boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) as they document strange occurrences in their house, which Katie believes are being caused by a supernatural force that has followed her since childhood.

At its best, Paranormal Activity provides some genuine frights more effectively than many other modern horrors. The scenes which show us the happenings as Katie and Micah sleep in their bedroom are the most chilling, commendably achieved through minimal and simple effects. The use of a handheld camera style throughout is a double-edged sword however; it simply and effectively creates an authentic feel of this being real "home movie" footage, but for anyone whose ever had to watch someone else's camcorder efforts, there are just as many tedious moments as there are compelling ones.

This problem means that Paranormal Activity becomes pretty repetitive around the halfway point. The cyclical use of spooky bedroom footage interspersed with the less interesting daytime activities of Katie and Micah had me losing interest, and made the brief running time of eighty-six minutes feel stretched. One or two more interesting moments, such as a scene with an abandoned ouija board, help to break up the tedium, but these are simply not included often enough.

Hanging the success of your film on two actors alone is also something of a gamble, and whilst the minimal casting is obviously a symptom of the minuscule budget, here it only partially pays off. Katie is an appealing and sympathetic character whom Featherstone manages to imbue with a genuine, likable manner. Micah on the other hand is less successful, often coming across as unnecessarily and unrealistically recalcitrant and basically a bit of an arse. There were several points where I questioned why on earth was still in the relationship with Micah considering the monumental prick he was being. The problem is compounded further by the fact that the film's "found footage" was by and large "filmed" by Micah, meaning we have to put up with his point of view and commentary through the vast majority of the film.

Paranormal Activity therefore comes out as a real mixed bag. When it gets it right, the film is a palpable horror, which is all the more impressive considering the tiny budget. However, the amount of money available doesn't forgive its repetitive and unremarkable nature when not trying to scare you, and scoring one out of two in the cast when you only have two main actors is always going to leave something of a bad taste in the audience's mouth. Despite these faults, Paranormal Activity is still a pleasing entry into the modern horror canon and certainly worth a watch.


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