Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007)

Paranormal_activity_poster

Many films often claim to be “the scariest film ever” yet the majority do not come close to such claims.  Paranormal Activity, however, lives up to the hype which has made the film incredibly successful over in the US, grossing over $61,580,588 thus far; not bad when you consider that the film was made for a paltry $11,000, or $15,000 depending on your source.  I have been anticipating the release of this film since seeing the well constructed trailer over a month ago and finally got to view it on Halloween night.

The premise is simple.  Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) believe that their house is haunted, Katie being a magnet to supernatural activity since a young a child.  Technology savvy Micah decides to setup recording equipment in the bedroom to capture any paranormal activity that might take place.  The activity escalates as Micah becomes more confrontational to the spirit, resulting in a truly horrific climax. 

The film is clearly influenced by The Blair Witch Project (1999), which draws many comparisons particularly in its independent origins, and many of the popular ghost hunting television shows, such as Britain’s Most Haunted and America’s Ghost Hunters.  A disclaimer opens the film informing the audience that the footage was “donated” by the Los Angeles Police Department, evoking memories of the found footage narrative present in films such as The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield (2008), Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and The Last Broadcast (1998).  The actors put in believable performances, Micah Sloat’s conventional alpha male is particularly effective.  But it is Katie Featherston who is the stand-out performer.  It is refreshing to see an actress who does not conform to the typical Hollywood female stereotype, another important factor in making the film more realistic. 

And yes, the film is very scary.  There are numerous well-executed scare scenes; the old adage ‘less is more’ is certainly followed here.  The night vision bedroom camcorder footage, shot with one static camera, holds the viewers attention as you wait for something to happen in the frame.  The intensity increases as it is revealed where the demon may have come from.  This results in a memorable and chilling ending which stays with you long after the end of the film.  I should add that the version of the film I saw had the ‘original’ 2007 ending which I believe is more haunting, if you forgive the pun, than the current theatrical 2009 ending.  The 2009 ending, which bears the fingerprints of the master of rhetoric Steven Spielberg, is certainly more theatrical but not as chilling.  Apparently there are some other differences in the 2009 edit which cleans up some of the original special effects. 

I gave a lecture on the relationship between fandom and marketing last week and I used the promotional strategy of Paranormal Activity as a case study.  In the US, audiences had to “demand” for the film to be shown in their area by visiting the official website and clicking on the appropriate link.  Accompanied by an effective viral video, this unique strategy saw the film rise to the top of the US box office in four weeks.  Word of mouth certainly added to the popularity of the film.  It remains to be seen whether a similar strategy will be used here in the UK but I cannot help but feel that the Paramount has missed an opportunity by not releasing the film in time for Halloween.  The film is scheduled for release in the UK on November 27.

You will hear many people’s thoughts on this film over the coming weeks.  After our viewing on Halloween night we found it hard to sleep, partly down to the sounds coming from our inconsiderate neighbours at 3am in the morning.  This now joins Ghostwatch (1992) as one of the most frightening films I have ever seen. 

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