Let’s set up a camera and see what happens.
Paranormal Activity is in a lot of ways similar to The Blair Witch Project. Both movies made on a shoestring budget went on to make buckets of cash at the box office. With the first Paranormal Activity making nearly 1500 times its budget back, we all knew there would be a sequel. When I mention the first film folks tend to bring up the sequels, and I think this is a bummer. We are kind of lucky that the second Blair Witch was such a mess that the franchise died before it could take away from the original.
I personally believe that the first PA is a pretty damn good film. Now that I have lost most of my horror cred, let’s continue.
We follow Katie and Micah in their fancy San Diego home. Katie has been haunted before (during her childhood) and thinks something is occurring now. Micah decides to by a camera to record what is happening and get some proof. Why? Why not?
The desire to capture supernatural phenomena on video isn’t new to this series, and there is a level of believability in the set-up. It is clear that Micah doesn’t think anything is actually happening, and this is kind of a fun project for him. (He also pressures Katie to have sex on camera, and this becomes an annoying staple of the series).
It becomes clear quite quickly that something is going on, and this is where the film provides some high quality jump scares. The advantage of found footage is that we know something is coming, so we dread and anticipate whatever is going to jump out at us. There is some fun camera trickery here, and the film does provide a pretty good level of creep (though it diminishes after repeat viewings).
The blue filter for nighttime looks fine, and becomes a staple for the series. We get a few interesting nuggets of lore, and all in all the story is fine. This one is a lot of fun, but the little details help push this one above. The stress between Katie and Micah becomes highly apparent, and we see them going from home cooked meals to take-out over the course of a couple weeks. These small details put this film above the rest (and you know, being original and all).
The film does have a couple things going against it. The big one is that Micah is obnoxious. The actor playing him does great, and he is a believable person, but he is also kind of an ass. He refuses to believe Katie, antagonizes the spirit, goes against her wishes, lies to her, and pretty much makes it all worse. I get that people can be jerks, but there becomes a real question of why Katie stays—not only with him as a partner, but also why doesn’t she remove him from this situation?
The other thing this film has going against it is that it is now part of a 6 film franchise. I stand by this film, and I also still enjoy the first Saw. I get that the original film can be hurt by the sequels, and it is hard not to do this. PA is also blamed for spawning the fifty million found-footage films we now have to go through. We shouldn’t blame this movie on that, but rather how anything original is sucked into the mass market vacuum and will be vomited outward all over us until there is no more money to make from the idea.
This one should be on every horror fans’ shelf. It is worth a watch.