From the moment that I first saw the marketing around the movie Paranormal Activity, I knew I was in for a unique experience. A wise man once told me that you should be careful what you let into your sight, because some things you can’t erase from your mind. It’s been the case with a few events in my life. And it’s certainly should have been a quote that entered my mind before watching Paranormal Activity.
Before I elaborate on all the ways in which this experience etched a spot on my brain that I hope will dissolve some time soon, I need to preface this by describing the type of person who would NOT enjoy this film. And it’s nothing personal — everything isn’t for everybody. But I’m a bit disturbed to see in this day and age the number of people who consume media and don’t allow themselves to be entertained. When you see Peter Pan live on Broadway, sure it’s easy to spot the wires hanging from Sandy Duncan’s waist. But it’s a lot more fun to allow yourself the pleasure of the enjoying experience. Folks tend to be taken aback a bit to learn that, although I barely watch it anymore, pro wrestling is something that I enjoy and have enjoyed watching since I was young. “Uh…don’t you know it’s….um….fake??” Yes, I understand that it’s scripted. I also understand a lot more about the art of coordinating and timing each sequence to tell the audience a story. It’s an art. And that doesn’t mean everyone has to appreciate it. But you have a much better chance of appreciating it if you don’tover analyze and instead try to find something to appreciate about what you’re consuming.
Usually this is the place where I guess I’m supposed to say, “But, I digress….” And I realize that I’m belaboring the point. But the key to appreciating a film like Paranormal Activity is to forget the fact that the people onscreen all have profiles on iMDB.com and several have other film credits. The key is to simply watch the experience without any expectations and with as little prior knowledge as possible.
I often hear mention of The Blair Witch Project in the same conversations about this film. And the comparisons are to be expected. Both were filmed in a sort of ‘mockumentary’ style and, in my opinion, this strengthens the authenticity of both films. But what carries these films (ironically) are the strong “acting performances”. I don’t know that you can even call them “acting performances”. I’m sure that there are large portions of all of these folks in the people they portray. And while these actors aren’t going to be walking away with any Golden Globes in January, from a horror film standpoint, these are some class-A performances. To say much more would possibly ruin the experience. Just trust me when I say that, if you’re watching this the right way, you will find yourself feeling that you’re just watching a young couple and not actors in a film.
So what’s the real hook with this film? Well, without spoiling any of the experience, for me it comes down to three things (besides the authenticity of the acting performances.) First, this movie works more effectively for horror film aficionados because it abandons all modern horror film conventions. There are no musical cues. There are no professionally done cuts. You are trusting the very vulnerable people holding the camera – and you feel very alone. This film has a formula allits own and it is quite impressive.
The second aspect that makes this different from any other horror film are the setting and the effects. We spend virtually the entire time in one location. The film was only an hour and half and I can probably map out every room in the house. The image it left in my mind was just that strong. The illusion also holds up because, as much as I tried, I didn’t see any evidence that there was some off-screen crew. The scenes are so dynamic and mobile that it’s hard to imagine where a crew might have been located. And simply put, the effects are subtle and the effect is chilling.
Technical details like effects, camera work and sound engineering along with a good script and good acting are components that any solid big budget film could posses. But, for me, there’s something intangible that ties this experience all together. And for me it seems to be this fact: the film plays upon every fear that you’ve ever had about that seemingly random noise you might have heard. Or the fact that you think you remember seeing something move in that shadow near your bed. Somehow this film taps into a place deep in my mind when I resisted sleep as a child and would lie away and let my imagination running wild. Maybe it’s just me. But I think there’s an intrinsic value that permeates through the screen and starts gnawing at your fears.
I cannot stress enough — if you are the least bit antsy about being alone in the dark or fear of things dealing with the occult, stay away. However, if you DO decide to take this challenge on, ironically the theater isn’t the best place to experience it. At least not in a full theater. There are subtle sounds…. that can be most fully be appreciated if you are in limited company. This film is going to really hit it’s stride when people see it at home with a high def television and a 5.1 or 7.1 sound system. And the sound, as is the case with most suspense/horror films, is a huge part of the experience.
Stupidly, I watched this film alone and it’s alone that I’ll take myself to bed tonight… all the while singing “Rockin Robin” and “Happy People” as I do my best to forget some of these scenes until the morning. Yes, if you let yourself get immersed in this one, it’s that serious.