This past weekend I caught the low-budget chiller Paranormal Activity. The film is shot in what many now call the Blair Witch style—that is it uses unknown actors in basic settings using minimal equipment to tell its story.
Unfortunately for me the film wasn’t showing at my favorite theater but instead at the AMC theater in town. That theater is, as I’ve mentioned before, a choice of last resort for me. It’s a beautiful building with 24 theaters but it’s just a disaster to visit. It attracts a lot of inconsiderate people and the costs are entirely too high. If this was the only theater around I’d have given up going to see movies and that’s saying a lot for someone like me.
Anyway, the film was worthwhile to see and has impressed a wide array of viewers. I found it very slow to get going—extremely slow in fact. Once it finally did get to something noteworthy it continued to turn up the tension with every scene. I suspect the movie banks very heavily on a heavy immersion factor from its audience and there things could have gone better if not for the inevitable firefly-like cellphone experiences.
I was powerless to do anything due to the sheer number of instances. I don’t believe there were more than three or four moments when at least one cell phone wasn’t alight. Two rows down and to my right, the entire row from the middle over had teens using them as if the movie weren’t even going on. Every minute or two each of them would re-open their phone, with no attempt to hide it, and text away. One guy well down to my left had what seemed like a netbook that he would open for 10 minutes at a time. This has got to stop. Theaters around the country need to have real people show up before a film and inform the audience that they will be watching and if anyone is seen using a cell phone they will be immediately ejected from the theater. After a few clear examples of this the concept should sink in. I can see no other effective means without the other patrons being outright rude in return.
So for me immersion was out of the question. I suspect this might work better in your own home if your theater is like this one. I feel like it would get you invested much earlier without that sort of continual distraction.
The real questions about Paranormal Activity are if it’s a horror movie and if it succeeds as such. I actually wouldn’t call this a horror movie. The best way to describe it is that it’s incredibly creepy. The later moments are horror-like but still different. It’s more a psychological thriller than anything else. The special effects are extremely well done with no cheap cut scenes to be seen. What you see on film look entirely convincing and eerie. The acting is fine though not anything approaching professionalism. The male lead is a bit distracting though much of that has to do with his sorry character flaws.
Of course the biggest problem with the script of movies like this is the unbelievable number of ways it has to attempt to make feasible the continued use of a video camera when far more important things abound. The good news here is that much of the action is written in such a way that this is reduced to a minimum.
It does fall into standard horror fare with one element and that’s the too-dumb-for-their-own-good personality flaws that prevent any such character from taking actions that would make the most sense but, of course, would require the writers to be masterful at their craft to avoid such actions destroying the fun. If you’re the type that’s easily annoyed by such dumb characters then look elsewhere. These are pretty dumb people. If you can get over that, Paranormal Activity will likely be a fun and disturbing experience for you. I woke up in the middle of the night wondering if something might not be lurking in the shadows. That’s as good a sign as any for a positive film experience.