Paranormal Activity is terrifying. I could leave it at that, but this low budget horror offers more than just terror, it boasts surprising depth when it comes to the physical and emotional toll the activity has on its characters. Oren Peli’s 2009 feature has been hailed by critics, though the audience divided. It is a film you watch in the dark with either headphones or speakers on to get the maximum atmosphere for a truly terrifying and realistic experience.
Katie and Micah are a young couple who are being haunted by an unseen force. That’s it, the premise is simple but director Oren Peli works wonder with his tiny $15,000 budget to create a terrifying ninety minute panic attack movie. A lot of people don’t find the Paranormal Activity franchise scary, in fact I’ve heard some serious reviews that slate them. Granted, when you explain to people what happens in the films and you reply with doors slam, people scream and shadows appear, it doesn’t sound like much but the buildup and uncertainty of coming events is the main cog that cranks up the atmosphere.
The rawness of the footage, the realistic feel of watching someones home video makes the couple and situation relatable, just throw in a malevolent demonic force into the mix. Katie Featherston is terrific, it’s one of the most convincing performances in horror, she portrays the fear and desperation and buildup of anxiety so damn well. Micah Sloat is great too, his cheeky side and lack of seriousness plays great against Featherston’s worries, building character and tension. Their relationship is believable and watching them both deteriorate mentally with tiredness and exhaustion makes them vulnerable to the demonic contact and when it happens it’s shocking.
The effects used here are minimal but very convincing. Seeing Katie’s bedsheets mysteriously blow over, followed by the force dragging her out of her bed and down the corridor as she screams is harrowing. The shadows appearing on the doors despite no figure being present adds more weirdness, even the sight of chandeliers swinging and doors slamming shut scares me. The final shot is one of the best moments in horror in my opinion, footsteps claiming the stairs followed by silence leaves you on edge, until Micah’s body flies at the camera seemingly thrown by a bloodied Katie before she morphs into a demon and the film cuts to black.
Without resorting to cheap scare tactics and using buildup and perfect timing, Paranormal Activity brought found footage back to its a-game. Top performances, many jumpy moments and an enveloping aura of fear, this start to a superb horror movie franchise will live on as one of the best of its type. Better than Blair Witch and most modern horror flicks, I recommend this highly.