July 2, 2018

Paranormal Activity (2007)
Grade: 18/100

Director: Oren Peli
Stars: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

What it's about. Young adult hotties Katie and Micah move in together into a nice suburban home. Micah decides to film the experience with his camcorder. Katie suspects a demon has followed her from her prior residence.

A few weeks pass, and there is an escalating sense of horror: objects move and doors close, there are unexplained noises, and Katie begins acting weird. This culminates in demonic possession and violence.

How others will see it. This movie is for those who thought The Blair Witch Project cost too much money to make. It was filmed in the director's own home with a personal camcorder and a budget of 10K. The two leads were paid $500 each. There are no opening or closing credits. There is no score.

Somehow, this so-called movie not only made it into wide distribution, but pulled down close to 200M worldwide box office. Positive word of mouth from the impressionable was fanned by film reviewers who fall into two categories, naive or liars. Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli both gave the movie 3 1/2 stars out of 4.

Nonetheless, it was ignored by prestigious film festivals. Even the Saturn Awards passed on it. It was nominated by the Golden Schmoes as the Most Overrated Movie of the Year, somehow not winning.

Today at imdb.com, the movie has a high 200K user votes. The user rating of 6.3 is respectable. The leading user reviews, though, are mostly merciless: "Waste of my time and money", "Paranormal CRAPtivity", "You're kidding, right?", "Awful Movie", "Boring, Lame, Not Scary". And so forth.

How I felt about it. I don't have much against ultra-low budget movies per se. It's true that The Blair Witch Project sucked, and Clerks was overrated, but a filmed stand-up monologue could potentially be good. God Said, 'Ha!' came close.

And a one-set movie about a couple could certainly be a good movie. Think about the Citizen Kane montage about the young marriage between Orson Welles and Ruth Warrick, and expanding that into a feature film.

The big problem with Paranormal Activity, then, isn't really its budget, or even its two-person cast. It's the premise of a pseudo-documentary, complete with a shaky hand-held camera that must be toted around constantly by one of the two leads.

It's unnatural. It is best to discard the premise and the shaky cam, and simply film it as a drama, complete with a real script and real actors. In other words, something closer to The Evil Dead (1981), or better yet, The Night of the Living Dead (1968).

What we have here is bad sound, bad video, a bad script, and boring actors, whose sole saving grace is that they are physically attractive. It isn't enough.

Paranormal Activity also reminds me of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Buxelles (1975), another interminable film ending in a brutal murder that supposedly justifies the rest of the movie. It doesn't.