Sunday, October 11, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Yeah yeah, I know. I'm not supposed to review movies. However Paranormal Activity is unique. First, there isn't a script (well, technically there isn't) which means the movie is the script. So I *am* reviewing the script. Heh heh. But also, I have a feeling this movie's going to be talked about a lot in the coming weeks and I wanted to get my opinion out there. So enjoy my review of...Paranormal Activity.

I have to say I was a little disappointed when the first scene of 2009's descendant of camera shakey fakey cinema, Blair Witch, came onscreen. When I originally heard about Paranormal Activity a few years ago (after it debuted at some popular film festival) I thought it was a slam dunk idea. Except the idea I heard was different from the one I watched tonight. I'm not sure if I got bad information or they switched out all the old stuff and reshot new stuff, but the idea I heard was that a couple starts experiencing strange things in their house, so they set up video cameras in every room to record any anomalies over the course of the next month.

Well *this* Paranormal Activity axed that idea in favor of the characters operating a single camera during the course of the story. The reason this is a problem is you make things exponentially harder on the believability scale when you put your characters in life-threatening situations and the first thing they think of to do (because it's the only thing you *can* do if you want a movie) is to grab the video camera. Oh! What's that? It's a demon sounding monster in the next room! Let's go grab the video camera and check it out! Sure, you're not going to get any of those nice close-ups using the multiple-camera set-up, but it's sure going to be a lot more believable.

That said, Paranormal Activity does about as good a job as you can making those moments work. There were only a couple of times when my overly critical eyes rolled and I went, "No way." But the audience around me (which I'm pretty sure at least 70% of thought the movie was real) didn't bat an eye.

Another surprising component to this production was the actors. Playing "100% real life" without being able to lean on the funny crutch (like "The Office" for instance) is just about the hardest thing an actor can do. No matter how realistic you are, the fact that you're trying to hit plot points and set up payoffs and improvise dialogue - those just aren't things you have to worry about in the real world so it's inevitable you're going to come off as "fake" sooner or later. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by both these actors. The girl was just your average girl in a relationship - no bells and whistles, nothing special - just how you want her to come off. And the guy's machismo act, which started off shaky, really grew on you, particularly because it was essential to the story.

The strength of the story is obviously the bedroom scenes, where the camera is propped up on a tripod and records the couple sleeping (as well as the hallway seen through the open door) as we sit in our seats helplessly wondering what the hell is going to happen next. The paranormal moments are tiny at first - a door moving, a sheet rustling - but they get progressively worse. And worse and worse and worse. I have to admit that I was captivated the entire time, both by the story and wondering what the filmmakers were going to come up with next that we hadn't seen in scary movies before. And that's pretty much where Paranormal Activity has such an advantage. Because the setup and direction of this story are so unique, we don't have any blueprint to guide us. We're not sure where the scares are going to come from. We're not sure how this story ends.

There are a couple of moments though that are hard to buy. The "writers" smartly identified that they needed a way to keep the characters in the house so they came up with a storyline that whatever this "presence" is, it's been following the girl around her whole life. So they *could* go somewhere else, but it would just end up following them. Yet there's a moment late in the movie where it's just not believable in any capacity that they wouldn't get the hell out of there. I'm being deliberately vague because this is the kind of movie that preys on your ignorance. And make no mistake, you will be preyed upon.

Paranormal Activity is pretty much that "dream idea" every independent director/producer is looking for. It's simple, it's smart, and it's entertaining. This film lives up to the hype and I encourage all of you to see it before Halloween. :)

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

note: Know that you are going into SPOILER TERRITORY in the comments section...