So often films are hyped up to a level where they can no longer function on their own as a film. You have one group who is expecting “the scariest film ever”, and they go onto hate it because expectations for the film were so high. Then you have the other group who either can separate the film from the hype. The last group you have is people who buy into the clever marketing campaign and get their positive wish fulfillment. As much as I tried to separate myself from the hype, I think I was too invested in it, and the film did not reach the heights I was promised.
Paranormal Activity sets us up with the premise that a suburban couple is being haunted by a demon. Katie has been haunted by this particular demon all her life, and skeptical boyfriend Micah wants to record their lives for a bit with his newly bought video camera. They bring in an expert to tell them what to do about their problem. They are advised to not provoke the demon, because it could result in dire consequences for the both of them.
Of course, Micah doesn’t listen, and becomes such a nuisance that the haunting takes a turn for the worse. Which is one of the main problems with the film. Micah is an unlikeable male lead. He is constantly being insensitive to the horror that his girlfriend is feeling, and provokes just as much once it is apparent that more than just a few odd things are going on. There is a scene in the film in which his girlfriend begs him to let her call a demon expert, but he becomes stubborn and tells her he has everything under control when everything else points to the exact opposite. I can’t wrap my head around a film that relies so heavily on the main actors stupid choices. It ends up making the action more frustrating than suspenseful a lot of times.
Throughout the film I found myself nodding in approval at the slow build of suspense throughout the film. Only to be let down when each promised scare ended up being a bang off screen. I know the film is low budget, and to some people a loud thud in another room might be scary. However, for me it takes a bit more than that to make me feel scared. By the time I reached the climax of the story, I felt let down and disappointed. It didn’t shock me, it didn’t scare me, and frankly it didn’t entertain me. That slow build I appreciated throughout the film turned out to be just a slowly paced story.
There are some things the film should be praised for. The direction of Orin Peli shows some promise. The slow pacing of the film could have been a good build to a great ending, but without a big bang at the end, it just feels under paced and a bit over exaggerated. The use of a handheld camera and basic lighting is neat, but it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. It is just used to better effect than some movies I’ve seen in the style.
Overall, if you are looking for the scariest picture of the year, this isn’t it. Go in with reasonable expectations and you might have a decent time. Don’t expect this movie to break new ground, and be the next step suspense and horror genres will be taking.
Grade : C-