When Paranormal Activity hit the big screen in 2007, it rocked audiences. I remember hearing snippets such as “Scariest movie I’ve ever seen” and “OMG, that was so creepy!” I’m not sure what I was doing in 2007 that prevented me from catching this phenomenon, but I’m finally joining in. While Paranormal Activity wasn’t the scariest film I’ve ever seen, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. It is scary. And creepy. It captures a simple story and sends the viewer for a ride. Normally, the hand-held camera effect annoys me, but this movie uses it tastefully and it didn’t make my head hurt once. This movie, or franchise, isn’t perfect. But I had a damn good time watching it.
Paranormal Activity is about Katie and Micah, a young couple living together in California. Katie is a firm believer in the paranormal and believes their house is haunted by some spirit. In an attempt to support Katie and to get to the bottom of things, Micah purchases a high-tech camera and sets it up in their bedroom at night. All of the Paranormal Activity films want the audience to feel as if this is just a home movie, and not a “real” movie that you’re watching in the theater. The creators want the audience to believe what’s happening on screen, to believe it could happen to them and to become progressively more and more scared.
I have to say, their plan works. Paranormal Activity isn’t built on gore or monsters or epic death scenes. It’s built on old school suspense. And as a girl who loves Alfred Hitchcock, I love suspense. Part of the reason horror is dying is because suspense is gone from most of the films today. In a world that is desensitized and fears little, the only way to truly scare someone is by using suspense. A balloon-making clown could have popped out at the end of this film and it still would have been just as scary because the entire film gradually builds suspense. Some may argue nothing happens for most of this film. Sure, there’s a spooky thing here or there, but slasher fans will bemoan, “Nothing happens!” Something is happening. Slowly, with every passing minute, the audience is becoming more and more vulnerable. As each minute ticked by with nothing or very little transpiring, I became more and more nervous. I waited, impatiently, for shit to go down and I just kept waiting. The suspense in this film is unbelievable. Newsflash, viewers. Suspense is scary. Feeling as though you don’t know what’s going to happen or feeling uncomfortable is scary. It’s the best kind of scary.
The other reason why this film rocked my world is because it’s not a manufactured fear. What do I mean by manufactured fear? There are no crazy creatures or serial killers in this movie. There are no aliens or psycho sharks. This movie is about things that go bump in the night. It’s about lying in bed and waking up because you heard a pot drop to the floor in the kitchen. It’s about unexplained noises coming from the attic. I don’t know the statistics on it, but I’d wager a large number of people in the world are scared of unexplained noises in their houses. This is a fear that already exists in people and this movie exploits it. The audience doesn’t have to buy into some silly story or learn a character history or something, they already understand this fear. They have this fear.
As a latecomer to this franchise, I didn’t know what to expect. I was skeptical because I don’t believe in paranormal happenings. I thought this film would be silly. I was wrong. Whether or not you believe in the paranormal, this movie is freaking scary. The suspense is fantastic and it’s definitely unsettling. And sure, a lot of people believe this movie is a knock-off of Poltergeist, but I disagree. It may sample a bit of that film, but it's unique and different. I never would have thought Paranormal Activity would save horror, but it looks like the island should watch out for the supernatural.
If you liked Paranormal Activity, you might also like Paranormal Activity 2, Paranormal Activity 3 and Paranormal Activity 4.