Unreal Movie Review: Paranormal Activity


Aside from perhaps Avatar, Paranormal Activity has been the most hyped movie of the year, but while the former movie cost over $200M to make, the latter was shot for a mere $11,000. It’s the kind of low budget success story in the works that we haven’t seen since another similar project ten years ago, which featured a certain group of individuals with a video camera being hunted by a witch in the woods.

I finally got a chance to see what all the fuss was about, as I’ve had a severe distaste for the film’s “midnight screenings in 15 cities only” campaign that has been going on for some time, but now with showtimes expanding to more reasonable hours, I finally headed to campus in Ann Arbor, and got to see the so-called “scariest movie of the decade.” But is it really?

The plot of Paranormal Activity is relatively simple, and appropriately described as “Blair Witch in a house.” It’s all shot from one camera, and follows a couple that combat an evil force that has been terrorizing a girl for years, and has recently resurfaced in her boyfriend’s house. It mixes hand-held follow-around camera work with static, night vision shots, and the result is an incredibly immersive horror movie that will have you unconsciously on the edge of your seat the entire time.paranormal2.jpg

And yes, it is scary. There are some moments, one in particular, which made me uncontrollably jump in a way I haven’t since I was a child. The fact that Paranormal Activity was able to create even a few brief moments of terror for me, a person so jaded by horror movies I thought I could never be scared again, that is a definite accomplishment to flaunt, and I truly believe the stories of people passing out and throwing up during screenings.

However, the film suffers from a pervasive inconsistency of tone, and therefore fails to live up to its spiritual predecessor, Blair Witch, in almost every way. Micah, the boyfriend in the movie, is a bit of a wiseass, and actually spouts some pretty laugh out loud lines, as he doesn’t fully grasp the reality of the evil that lurks in the house.

But the problem is that these jokes persist throughout the movie, and once things degrade into complete madness and terrifying unexplained phenomena, one clever line or one cracked joke makes the audience burst out laughing, and completely destroys any built up tension the scene may have had.

The film also is too kind to its audience, giving them a respite from paranormal terror practically every other scene. The daytime shots look like they come from a completely different movie, as the brightly lit, luxurious house looks like something out of The Hills, and no amount of crying girlfriend can retain the same tension that’s built up in the night scenes.


But once those night scenes do come, you can feel the anxious flutter of the audience before anything even happens. Each new night brings new, progressively scarier occurrences, and it is fun (and often terrifying) to watch what the evil force will do to f*ck with our terrified couple that evening.

Paranormal Activity is a good horror movie that could have been great. But a joke here, a brightly lit sun-room there, and it loses what made Blair Witch a classic. That movie was a constant psychological assault, due to the extreme hopelessness of being completely lost in the woods with no protection from outside forces. But two people, in a house that has fully functional lights and a door they can just walk out of at any time? It’s not the same level of pervasive terror, which I feel the film could have had with just a few rewrites.

But tonal issues aside, Paranormal Activity is on the way to being a huge sensation, debuting at fifth on the box office charts this weekend, grossing $7 million despite being shown on only a hundred and fifty theaters as opposed to the standard wide release of 2000+. That’s just insane.

It’s certainly not the greatest horror movie of all time, but it is a damn good one, and if you can manage to find a ticket to a not-sold out show, it’s worth the price of admission to feel brief something that only a handful of movies ever have been able to produce: actual, palpable, physical terror.

4 out of 5 stars


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  1. I guess I’m in the minority but I thought that movie was awful. Too slow, too predictable and they weren’t brave enough to end it when they should have. I found myself through the whole second half of the movie that each night scene was the one where finally died. It’s not that I need constant action, it’s just that I knew that’s what I was waiting for. Over hyped and dumb. It is cool that all the dialog was ad libbed, and the sound guy should be commended. But other than that I wish I hadn’t seen it.

  2. I have to admit I wanna see this and I usually have no intrest in horror movies (The Grudge *US version* scared the crap out of me, yah I admit it) however Blair Witch just made me ill. I have super bad motion sickness and ended up concentrating more on my shoes to get equilibruim back rather then take in the story…but maybe I’ll give this one a try if it ever comes my way

  3. I see what you’re saying about the loss of tension when you have day scenes, though that is pretty common in horror movies. The thing I liked about it was that they set up that expectation that the “daytime” meant you can relax, then closer to the end things change.

    I won’t lie, that movie scared the crap out of me, and I, like you did not think that was possible anymore. Nothing ever seems THAT realistic or THAT scary to get me. But this move did. Worth the cost of admission, absolutely.

    @Cheryl- This movie will likely make you a bit dizzy as well, though as you watch it your body get acclimated to the motion and the hand held camera work.

  4. I thought it was crap, By the end i was rooting for the Demon. The flaw of incredibly stupid characters did it in for me. Also the scary scenes just did not seem that frighting to me, there were a few startling ones but none that were frightening.

    Also if the Blair witch made you motion sick the first 10 mins of this will get you dizzy but it will pass.

    Not worth the money.

  5. i completely disagree with you on most of this. first of all, i really would like you to tell me what part of this movie made you jump uncontrollably. really, please tell me…. there was not a single scary moment in this movie. it was terrible.

    also, what “laugh-out-loud” lines are you talking about? the boyfriend was even more annoying than the stupid girl. horrible characters.

    @mitEj – i completely agree… i was rooting for the demon to just kill them. they were SO annoying.

    i just don’t get it. this movie was awful in so many ways.

  6. Ok Chelsea, Obvisouly you wasn’t paying any attention, maybe your like a lot of girls, mommy and daddy wont let you and your pimpled face boyfriend have the house to yourself, so you go to the movies to make out with him. GET A CLUE!!! This movie is By far the Best of ’09. Way better than SAW 6 ever come close to. The actors in this Film played the part Perfect. I could not tell if they really were actors, or if this was Live Footage. Katie done a Wonderful job, yeah her voice is annoying, but she can Act. This film had me and my friends scared to death, and evr since, weird things have been happening to us. That my friends, is What a Good freakin Scary movie is Supposed to do. PAY ATTENTION NEXT TIME CHELSEA, KEEP YOUR HEAD OUTTA YOUR BOYFRIENDS CROTCH, YOU MAY ACTUALLY LIKE THIS MOVIE!

  7. ok, Nicole… what i tried to decipher from your broken english and horrible grammar is that you think i was making out with my boyfriend instead of watching the movie. for your information, i watched this movie alone in the dark on my laptop because i love scary movies. i do not live with my parents; i take care of myself. i do not go to the theater to see movies like this because i have to deal with loud and ignorant bitches (most likely yourself) who scream at anything and make loud comments such as “oh no she di’nt! girl, youz gotz to getz outz of there!” it’s hard to pay attention to a movie that way. so, i watched it without interruption.

    i did fully pay attention to the movie. i even re-watched some parts to see if i missed something…. nope, not scary. you would have to be literally mentally defective if you had to wonder if these people were actors. however, i don’t have to question your intellect…. i just have to read your comment. i’m sorry that you and the rest of the teen girl squad got “scared to death”… they shouldn’t let people like you in the theater.

  8. But the fact that you said that the movie could have been much much better … but it wasen’t because they whre on a very different setting … apart the BLAIR WITCH ut the prblem was nt the house … the devil was haunting KATIE (GIRLFRIEND)
    ifi had to rate that movie its diffenetly five stars .. because as you said … i had never been scared by other movie scince i was 6 .. ahahaha welli’m only 13 but i think its great .. that was one of those special movies that i’ll never forget =)

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