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Cinema Sunday (10/11/09) October 11, 2009

Posted by monty in movies.
Tags: , ,

paranormal-activity-poster-0I might just be speaking for myself here, but the things you can’t see are always more frightening than the things you can.  This might just be due to my imagination, which has always been overactive.  I spend most of my waking hours worrying, even if these worries aren’t based in anything more than my own fabrications.  I get it into my head that something horrible has happened, is about to happen, or might happen, and then my anxiety spirals out of control, invariably leaving me curled up in my darkened closet in the fetal position, sucking my thumb. (AUTHOR’S NOTE: The preceding description has been added purely for dramatic effect.)

But even considering my own propensity for flights of fancy, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking there’s something terrifying about those things that lurk just outside our field of vision.  Slasher movies get a lot of mileage out of disembowling high school students – and, you know, more power to them – but is there anything genuinely frightening about Jason or Michael or the douchebag in the fuzzy parka hood in that one series I only vaguely remember?  Of course not.  By now, we know those movies’ formula just as well as we’ve internalized the plot structure to any given episode of Three’s Company, so there’s nothing remotely frightening or suspenseful to them.

This sense of the unexpected is what sets Paranormal Activity apart.  I’m not going to divulge a lot of plot here, because the less you know about it going in, the better.  The basic premise – which is revealed thirty seconds into the movie – is that Katie and Micah, boyfriend and girlfriend who live together, have been experiencing some things that go bump in the night. When Katie gets home at the start of the film, Micah reveals he’s purchased a video camera to record them while they sleep.  He sets it up on a tripod at the foot of the bed, hits record, lets it run … and the rest if one of the most ridiculously frightening things I’ve ever seen.  It’s easily the scariest movie since The Blair Witch Project (or the first half of The Strangers, before it turned into a chase film) and, for my money, is even scarier.

To give you an idea of my frame of reference: I see lots of movies.  Lots.  For a period of almost ten years I saw somewhere between 120-150 movies a year.  Major releases, prestige pictures, good things, shitty things, the works.  When I wasn’t in the theater on the weekend, I was catching up on older movies on DVD.  Even though my movie watching has tapered off in recent years, I still catch one or two a weekend.  The point is that I’ve seen a lot of horror movies – the classics, the mostly lousy recent ones, all the Japanese ones about creepy kids – and by this point, it takes a lot to scare me.  Paranormal Activity is the first movie where I’ve actually covered my eyes.

The movie works for the same reason Blair Witch works.  It plays with your expectations and your imagination.  Night by night we gradually find out what’s going on with these two characters (incidentally, I’m getting goose bumps thinking about the movie as I type this), and it turns out to be worse than we could ever imagine.  It’s a perfect collision of special effects, sound editing, and our own fear of the dark.

It helps that the two actors are as good as they are – essential, since they’re in every single shot of the film.  Katie is nervous at first, becomes increasinly frightened, and crosses into despondence, all without ever hitting a false note.  As for Micah … well, let’s just say I could relate to him all too well.  Proud of his video camera and his plan to capture everything on tape, he’s a guy first and a boyfriend second.  He cares about Katie and the situation in which they find themselves, but his reluctance to get outside help comes down to his determination to solve things himself.  He probably doesn’t ask for directions, either.

Coming as this film does on the heels of one of the worst movie summers I can remember, it’s a genuine breath of fresh air.  I walked out of the movie with my stomach in knots, but feeling as exhilarated as I’ve felt after a movie in a very long time.  Reportedly costing roughly $10,000 to make, Paranormal Activity joins this summer’s District 9 as still more proof that imagination and natural talent will trump big budget and big stars every time out of the gate.


Current listening:

Twilight singers twilight

The Twilight Singers – Twilight as Played by The Twilight Singers

Last movie seen:


Capitalism: A Love Story (Michael Moore, dir.)



1. Amanda - October 12, 2009

I want to see this movie very badly but now I am worried it would freak me out too much. I have trouble sleeping some days after watching a particularly scary episode of Ghost Hunters. Oh well, maybe ill Netflix it so I can pause it when it gets too intense.

2. rcm - October 14, 2009

Intense is a good word for it. It’s a really, really uncomfortable movie to sit through, but in a good way.

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