(MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD)
“I’m not going to kiss the camera. I’ll kiss you, but I won’t kiss the camera.”
Paranormal Activity was touted as the scariest film since The Blair Witch Project. This is a downright lie, but I’ll get on to that later. The first-person handheld camera horror genre both began and ended with The Blair Witch Project. Admittedly, most of the film is merely creepy, but the end…oh the end. Pure psychological terror. I’ll never get over that lingering shot in the end, full of ambiguity and sheer terror. Paranormal Activity has a few creepy moments, but the overall experience was one of disbelief and laughter. The main grievance is not just a fault of the film, but of the genre itself. I find it hard to believe that in the direst of situations, the first instinct is ‘I’ve got to film this!’ For example, in Paranormal Activity, at one point Micah finds his partner, Katie (the one who’s being haunted), missing during the night. Instead of thinking ‘Holy Shot, where is my wife?’ and immediately rushing to find her, he grabs the camera and then goes to find her.
The Blair Witch Project was something novel when it came out (well, apart from The Last Broadcast, but who has ever seen that?), and the constant reach for the camera could be excused. But suspension of disbelief can only be maintained for so long. And this also explains the success of Paranormal Activity. Word of mouth and viral marketing led this $15,000 movie to earn over $100 million. The trailer was intriguing: snapshots of the film were interspersed with videos of audiences shrieking and shouting ‘Oh my God!’ in the way that only Yanks can.
However, these audiences must have been either paid to scream or watching a different movie. There are a few spooky scenes in it, but the tension is deflated by the stupid decisions that the couple make throughout the film. If this is supposed to be about ‘genuine’ people, then why do they behave like normal film types? At the beginning, they do fit the part, portraying a playfulness and intimacy that rings true. However, their increasingly silly excuses not to leave the house towards the end conflict with the nature of this ‘real footage.’ When the faeces starts to hit the fan, why don’t they have a house party, or spend the night in a bar getting drunk, rather than stay in the house alone? I’m sure the spirit would not follow them to a crowded bar.
The film would be better as a spoof, to be honest. There were bouts of laughter in the audience when I went to see it. Many of them were directed towards the “terrifying” scenes. Think of how funny the film is at the beginning, before all the spooky scenes occur. Then think of the stupid scenes, such as the Ouija board setting on fire, those silly footprints in talcum powder, and the spirit itself being a ‘demon.’ A demon? Ghosts are half-acceptable, but ‘demons’? Surely it would be better if the spirit was something unexplained, rather than a three-toed pyromaniac? The instant something is explained in a horror film, more often than not you reduce the horror. Our imaginations can create explanations far more terrifying than anything given on the screen.
“Well, yeah… did you go run and get the camera first?”
The camera becomes too invasive towards the end. Micah seems to take so much pleasure in his partner’s discomfort that he needs to film her nervous breakdown. When she is sat shaking, crying uncontrollably after another paranormal activity, the camera is almost smacking her in the face. What an insensitive ignoramus! He cared more about the camera than his wife. Maybe it was a sly commentary on society’s need to document events, but I doubt it. The end itself? (MINOR SPOILER ALERT!) I heard that the ending was changed due to Stephen Spielberg, and the cheap scare that replaced the original ending is awful. It clashes with the rest of the film, which tried a slow-building terror (and failed). It’s quite ridiculous, fitting in with the spoof nature of the whole.
I originally viewed this in the cinema, and of course, the cinema isn’t the perfect place to watch a horror, especially when there are screaming teenagers about (I think they should have separate showings for adults and teenagers for horror films!). But even watching it with the lights off, in the comfort of my own home, the supposed ‘horror’ had little effect on me. The film is painfully slow and plodding. The frights are few and far between. It elicits laughter and ridicule rather than scares and screams. In this case, the hype was a bigger horror than the film itself.
VERDICT: 3/10. Boring, slow and lacking effective frights, Paranormal Activity should have been turned into a spoof rather than a genuine attempt at horror.