I had high hopes for Paranormal Activity, partly because of all the hype, and partly because when I was a kid, I happened upon a book of demonology and witchcraft that spoke of these manifestations, and it scared the hell out of me. But it also had lots of nude photos of witches performing Wiccan rituals, so I couldn’t just throw it away! I was 12. That stuff was gold, before the internet. In the end, the movie was disappointing, squandering some great build-up and a compelling premise with a muddled ending where it finally gets derivative and unoriginal. The alternate ending- what I imagine was the original- is much better, and I suggest you watch it first. I sure wish I had!
This is another “found footage” film like The Blair Witch Project, but this time the plot centers around a young couple- Katie and Micah- living in their new house. Creepy things happen at night, so Micah buys a video camera to see what’s really going on. Katie tells him she has felt this presence since she was 8 years old, when their house burned down, and it comes and goes. Micah wants to confront it- suggesting the good ol’ Ouija board- though a psychic Katie calls suggests against it. He says she’s not haunted by a ghost, a human spirit- but a demon.
We had another demon movie this year, Drag Me to Hell (full review)– and that’s the better one. Sure, it’s campy and more of a gross-out Tales of the Crypt type story than a scare-fest, but the writing is much better. On the other hand, this was made for $15,000 in 10 days by first time writer-director Oren Peli, and it’s quite impressive for that. And it’s certainly better than bigger budget horror like the pathetic The Haunting in Connecticut (full review) that I endured last year. It works best when it is creepy, and makes us wonder just what this spirit tormenting Katie is up to, and if it exists at all. Ending stories is often the most difficult part, and that’s where it falters. It builds up great tension- with the demon smashing a photo of Micah, making its intentions quite clear- but the changed ending, according to IMDb trivia it came at the suggestion of Steven Spielberg no less- is a cop-out.
After 90 minutes of clever creepy scares, and clues leading us toward what we can only hope is a revelation as to the nature of the invisible beast, we get a jump-scare and a hackneyed crawling “creepy walk” that reminded me of The Ring. I felt cheated. The story hints at a demonologist who can help with the problem, but he never shows up; I didn’t want to spoon-fed, but something more than “it’s completely random!” would have been appreciated. It’s worth seeing if you like horror, but don’t expect a lot. Trick ‘r Treat (full review) was much more rewarding.